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Rick Gates, former campaign aide to President Donald Trump departs after a bond hearing at U.S. District Court in Washingt...

Rick Gates pleads guilty to two charges, cooperates with Mueller in Russia probe

Rick Gates, a former top Trump campaign official, pleaded guilty to two charges Friday afternoon as part of an agreement with federal prosecutors, a source close to the investigation told the PBS NewsHour. The plea deal makes Gates the third campaign or White House staffer to cooperate with the Russia investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller, rather than face potential jail time.

Grand juries led by Mueller had charged Gates with a combined 31 criminal charges in indictments handed down in October and this week. None of the charges related directly to campaign activity. They instead focused on Gates’ financial dealings, accusing him and his former boss, and former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort of money laundering, bank fraud, failing to register as a foreign agent and tax fraud.

Gates pleaded guilty Friday to a charge of conspiracy related to his financial dealings, and to lying to Mueller’s team in an interview earlier this month. Mueller charged that Gates lied to investigators about a 2013 meeting that Manafort held with an unnamed member of Congress. Mueller claimed that Gates falsely said he had been told the meeting had nothing to do with Ukraine when he knew that Ukraine was discussed.

Manafort, who is thought by some to be a central focus in Mueller’s probe, is still facing multiple charges. Unlike Gates, Manafort was present at a much-discussed campaign meeting in Trump Tower in 2016 with a Russian lawyer, Donald Trump Jr. and others.

In an new indictment made public on Friday, Mueller charged Manafort with secretly paying former European officials to lobby for Ukraine. Manafort did not immediately respond to the latest charge. But in a statement issued earlier in the day responding to Gates’ plea deal, Manafort reasserted his innocence.

“I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me,” Manafort said in the statement.

Manafort’s comments followed a letter Gates sent to friends and family Friday morning. In the letter, a source close to the investigation said the father of four wrote that he recently had a change of heart and decided to work with Mueller’s team, despite an initial determination to fight the charges against him.

Gates was an important figure in Trump’s campaign and with Republican groups for much of 2016, especially during the five months that Manafort also worked for the Trump campaign.

Manafort initially focused on the GOP primary race for delegates and then rose quickly to become the Trump campaign manager in May 2016. That elevated Gates to deputy campaign manager. Manafort left the campaign three months later after news reports that he had taken millions of dollars under the table for political consulting work in Ukraine. Manafort has repeatedly denied the charges.

Gates’ history with Manafort dates back many years. The two worked together as political consultants for well over a decade. Among their prominent clients was Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych, who was removed from power in 2010 after agreeing to a pro-Russian energy deal. Yanukovych ultimately fled to Russia. Manafort has said he tried to influence Yanukovych to ally with Europe and the West.

Gates is the highest-ranking former Trump campaign official to sign a plea deal with Mueller’s team since former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn agreed to one last December. Mueller’s team has also announced plea deals with George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign; London attorney Alex van der Zwaan, who communicated with Gates; and California businessman Richard Pinedo.

Last week, Mueller filed charges against 13 Russian nationals, charging them with a sweeping scheme to use social media to manipulate U.S. voters and the media and disrupt the 2016 election

Correction: An earlier version of this post said incorrectly that Gates is a former father of four children. He is still a father of four children.