The one very big question about Rick Gates' plea deal

After weeks of rumors, it became official Friday afternoon: ...

Posted: Feb 24, 2018 11:29 AM
Updated: Feb 24, 2018 11:29 AM

After weeks of rumors, it became official Friday afternoon: Rick Gates pleaded guilty to two criminal charges and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing probe into Russia's attempted meddling in the 2016 election.

Gates, who served as Trump's deputy campaign chairman for a time in 2016, became the third person in Donald Trump's orbit to cop a plea as a result of the Mueller investigation -- joining former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos as cooperating witnesses.

Mueller's willingness to cut a plea deal with Gates -- coming less than 24 hours after the special counsel's office charged Gates and one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort with a bevy of money laundering and bank fraud violations -- suggests that Mueller believes that Gates has information critical to his broader investigation into Russian meddling and any possible collusion between the foreign power and the Trump campaign.

The big question is: What does Mueller believe Gates knows -- and about whom?

The options, broadly speaking, look like this:

1. Gates knows about all of Manafort's activities

Manafort has, to date, denied any and all charges against him -- including the allegations Thursday that he and Gates laundered more than $30 million and didn't pay taxes on it for a decade.

"The new allegations against Mr. Manafort, once again, have nothing to do with Russia and 2016 election interference/collusion," said Manafort's spokesman on Thursday. "Mr. Manafort is confident that he will be acquitted and violations of his constitutional rights will be remedied."

Given Gates' long-working relationship with Manafort -- the former has been the latter's wingman in private business and on the Trump campaign for the better part of the last 10 years -- it's possible that Mueller sees Gates as having the goods to convict Manafort on the charges against him.

2. Gates can help flip Manafort

It's quite clear from Mueller's aggressiveness regarding Gates and Manafort over the last 48 hours that the special counsel is upping pressure on both men to cut plea deals.

Gates has flipped. That makes Manafort's situation even more perilous. If Gates worked hand in hand with Manafort for a decade and is admitting that he broke the law -- and is willing to cooperate with Mueller's broader probe -- that leaves Manafort as a man on an island.

"Notwithstanding that Rick Gates pled today, I continue to maintain my innocence," Manafort said in a statement Friday afternoon. "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."

For all of Trump's attempts to dismiss the role Manafort played -- "Paul Manafort was replaced long before the election took place. He was only there for a short period of time" -- there are two crucial facts to remember about Manafort.

First, his title was "campaign chairman" but he was really the campaign manager. And he was the manager during a critical time -- as Trump sought to beat back attempts by the GOP establishment to rob him of the delegates necessary to win the nomination outright.

Second, Manafort was at the famous/infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between top campaign aides and Russian operatives. That meeting, which was organized under the promise that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton that they were going to share with Manafort, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. feels like a linchpin moment for Mueller to examine.

3. Gates has information on other people in Trumpworld

We assume that Mueller sees Gates as a path to Manafort -- whether for the purposes of nailing the former campaign chairman for his alleged wrongdoing in Ukraine or as a vessel into the innermost sanctum of Trump's inner circle.

But remember that Gates was in the senior management of the Trump campaign not only from the time Manafort was hired in May 2016 until he was fired in the summer. Gates remained on the campaign, serving as a bridge between it and the Republican National Committee. And, as The New York Times noted, Gates was close enough to the Trump senior brass that he traveled with the candidate on Trump's plane all the way through November 8, 2016.

Given that, it's possible that Gates has information well beyond Manafort.

Obviously, these 3 options are not mutually exclusive. Option 1 could lead directly to Option 2. Option 3 could be tied to either Option 1 or 2 (or both).

But, what Gates knows -- and about who -- is the $1 million question at the moment. If Gates' knowledge is limited to the deals he and Manafort did with Ukraine, that's one thing. If Gates has enough knowledge to convince Manafort that he's out of options and needs to cooperate with Mueller, that's something else entirely.

It's the difference between small-to-medium potatoes and very, very big ones. Stay tuned.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 34622

Reported Deaths: 1215
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds269748
DeSoto181818
Madison138236
Jones117349
Harrison104014
Rankin103515
Neshoba102274
Lauderdale94281
Forrest93943
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Washington64310
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Lee58621
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Lowndes52613
Leflore52256
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Lamar5027
Pike47020
Sunflower4528
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Monroe43635
Covington4195
Panola3996
Bolivar38018
Attala37524
Simpson3733
Newton35710
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Tate32313
Marion31312
Claiborne29310
Chickasaw29219
Winston28711
Pearl River27632
Noxubee2758
Marshall2693
Jasper2676
Clay25511
Union23811
Smith23412
Walthall2267
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Clarke21425
Lawrence1992
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Kemper18014
Carroll17311
Tallahatchie1664
Humphreys15910
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Calhoun1475
Tippah14411
Itawamba1418
Hancock13813
Webster12811
Tunica1193
Jefferson1173
Jefferson Davis1164
Prentiss1123
Greene10810
Amite1063
George1023
Wilkinson959
Tishomingo921
Quitman891
Alcorn852
Perry764
Choctaw754
Stone732
Franklin492
Benton420
Sharkey420
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 49892

Reported Deaths: 1077
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6030162
Mobile4418137
Montgomery4339109
Tuscaloosa254448
Madison19078
Marshall186611
Shelby150924
Lee149437
Morgan12205
Baldwin111410
Walker105127
Elmore98919
Dallas9639
Franklin92216
Etowah88214
DeKalb8416
Chambers65727
Russell6570
Autauga65313
Butler64328
Tallapoosa61669
Unassigned58626
Limestone5741
Houston5526
Cullman5395
Lauderdale5376
Lowndes48022
St. Clair4692
Colbert4656
Pike4595
Escambia4528
Calhoun4365
Coffee4074
Covington39911
Jackson3742
Bullock37010
Barbour3672
Dale3621
Talladega3497
Hale33722
Marengo33011
Wilcox2968
Clarke2946
Winston2893
Chilton2872
Sumter28512
Blount2731
Pickens2556
Monroe2492
Marion24514
Randolph2449
Conecuh2277
Perry2091
Bibb2081
Macon2069
Choctaw20212
Greene1928
Henry1433
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Clay742
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