Spencer S. Hsu
Rick Gates, once the indispensable right-hand man to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a star witness in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe, is being sentenced Tuesday morning in federal court in Washington.
Gates, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and light blue tie, appeared relaxed as U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson began the proceedings by noting she had read letters supporting a lenient sentence.
Gates’s original plea deal called for a possible five- or six-year prison term, but federal prosecutors in court filings last week said they would not oppose his attorney’s request for no prison time, citing “extraordinary assistance” in the special counsel investigation, which sought to learn whether any Americans conspired with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election.
“Under exceedingly difficult circumstances and under intense public scrutiny, Gates has worked earnestly to provide the government with everything it has asked of him and has fulfilled all obligations under his plea agreement,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston wrote in a sentencing recommendation this month.
Gates’s attorney requested probation and community service.
“We submit that Richard Gates has accepted responsibility for his misconduct in every way possible,” his attorney, Thomas Green, wrote.
Several former members of the special counsel team came to court for the sentencing, including Andrew Weissmann, who oversaw the Manafort investigation. He warmly greeted both Gates and his lawyer Thomas Green. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District assumed the case in March when the special counsel probe concluded.
Gates, of Richmond, has complied with three congressional subpoenas and spent more than 500 hours with federal and state prosecutors, Green said. He cooperated with prosecutors while caring for his wife, whom supporters said was diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and their four children.
Tuesday’s sentencing comes more than two years after Gates and Manafort became the first individuals publicly charged in Mueller’s investigation of Russian election interference, in October 2017.
Manafort served as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman until August 2016, when he resigned as word of his Ukraine work surfaced. However, Gates remained until Election Day, working at one point for the Republican National Committee, and then became deputy chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee.
While Manafort battled some of his charges through trial and reneged on a plea deal by lying to prosecutors after admitting guilt to other offenses, Gates never backtracked from his plea or cooperation.
Gates voluntarily admitted to criminal conduct that prosecutors did not previously know of and pledged to keep cooperating “in several ongoing matters” after his sentencing, prosecutors said.
Gates is one of six Trump aides or associates convicted in cases arising from the special counsel probe, and he served as a witness in three trials. He provided firsthand insights into the president’s senior aides and activities and gave information used in a dozen search warrant applications, the government said.
During a 2018 trial of Manafort in Virginia, Manafort’s defense attorneys hammered Gates’s credibility, pressing him to admit to jurors that he had embezzled from Manafort, kept mistresses and doctored tax returns.
But Gates’s testimony proved crucial, leading the Virginia jury to convict Manafort, who later pleaded guilty in another federal case in Washington.
Manafort was sentenced early this year to 7½ years in prison in both cases for conspiring to defraud the United States by concealing $30 million of what he earned while working for a Russia-backed political party in Ukraine; conspiring to tamper with witnesses; and committing bank and tax fraud to buy properties and support his lavish lifestyle.
The conduct at the heart of the charges against both men mostly predated their time on the campaign and Mueller’s appointment in 2017.
Jackson presided over Manafort’s case in Washington and two other trials in which Gates testified for the government: against Trump confidante Roger Stone and Democratic power lawyer Gregory B. Craig.
Gates was in court as a witness in August assisting Mueller’s spinoff probe of Washington lobbyists and the foreign influence industry. He testified for the government in the prosecution of Craig, a former top legal adviser to presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Craig was found not guilty at trial in September of lying to the Justice Department to conceal media contacts in 2012 related to his work with Manafort for the Ukrainian government.
In Stone’s trial in November, Gates revealed details of the Trump campaign’s intense interest in emails that the government alleged were hacked by Russia and released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks to derail Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Gates’s testimony included describing a phone call between Stone and Trump at a key moment in the campaign in late July 2016, in which Gates said Trump seemed to discuss WikiLeaks, calling into question the president’s assertion to Mueller’s office that he did not recall such discussions with his longtime friend.
As part of Gates’s plea, he admitted to conspiring to defraud the United States with Manafort, including keeping $3 million himself. He also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during an interview in which he was trying to secure a plea deal.
The charge of lying concerned Gates’s claim that a March 2013 meeting with a lobbyist and a congressman did not include a discussion of Ukraine.
“Gates’ cooperation has been steadfast,” Gaston wrote, “despite the fact that the government has asked for his assistance in high profile matters, against powerful individuals, in the midst of a particularly turbulent environment.”