Former FBI Director Robert Mueller. Picture: REUTERS
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller. Picture: REUTERS

Newark/Washington — Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign aide indicted in October with Paul Manafort on charges of money laundering and illegal foreign lobbying, has agreed to plead guilty and co-operate with US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Gates will admit to fraud-related charges in the next few days and agree to testify against Manafort, who worked for several months as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman in the 2016 presidential election, the paper reported, citing people familiar with the case whom it didn’t identify.

Two of Mueller’s prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann and Greg Andres, negotiated the Gates deal in recent weeks with Washington defence attorney Thomas C Green, according to the newspaper.

Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the election, leads the prosecution of Manafort and Gates, who were indicted on October 27.

Mueller obtained the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and a so-called troll farm for a broad campaign to sway the 2016 election.

He has secured co-operating guilty pleas from Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, and George Papadopoulos, a former policy adviser to Trump’s campaign.

A California man, Richard Pinedo, also pleaded guilty to identity theft and is co-operating with Mueller’s prosecutors.

By securing a guilty plea from Gates, Mueller will significantly increase the pressure on Manafort, according to Robert Mintz of law firm McCarter & English, and a former federal prosecutor.

"Gates, by all appearances, worked hand in glove with Manafort, and it appears that he’s in a position to provide prosecutors with a treasure trove of evidence and corroboration in their case against Manafort," said Mintz.

"Prosecutors build their cases by assembling them one block at a time," he said. "If Gates is able to put pressure on Manafort, prosecutors are no doubt looking to ultimately persuade Manafort to also plead guilty and co-operate. That’s where prosecutors are aiming."

A spokesman for Mueller and an attorney for Gates declined to comment on Sunday. An attorney for Manafort did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Case narrator

As Manafort’s longtime deputy, Gates could serve as a narrator for prosecutors at a trial, giving jurors an insider’s account of complex transactions and e-mails, said former federal prosecutor Lee Vartan. Gates could also provide critical leverage because he "will know where all the skeletons are buried", Vartan said.

"If Mueller’s goal is to go above Manafort and infiltrate the Trump administration, then obviously prosecutors want to put pressure on Manafort to break and see if he has information about members of the Trump family or the president himself," said Vartan, now at Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi.

The pressure on Manafort heightened further in a court filing unsealed late on Friday.

Prosecutors said in the document that he had engaged in a "series of bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies" not charged in his indictment.

Those frauds relate to a mortgage on a Virginia property that Manafort seeks to pledge to secure his $10m bail, according to the filing. Manafort "provided the bank with doctored profit and loss statements" from his company for 2015 and 2016, while "overstating its income by millions of dollars", prosecutors said.

Gates’s lawyers

Green has not entered an appearance in the case, but he participated with Gates at a closed-door hearing with the judge in Washington on February 14. Three other lawyers who represent Gates have told the judge they want to leave but the judge has not yet allowed that.

Gates, in court filings, has said he is in financial distress and is needed at home in Richmond, Virginia, where he lives with his wife and four children.

Manafort and Gates are accused of failing to register as agents in the US for political consulting they did in Ukraine for pro-Russian politicians, conspiring to launder millions of dollars, and hiding offshore bank accounts.

Manafort is accused of laundering money to buy houses, cars, clothes and landscaping services. Both men have pleaded not guilty.