Top Trump adviser pleads guilty

Donald Trump and Rick Gates.
Donald Trump and Rick Gates. Photo credit: Getty

A former senior official in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiracy against the United States and lying to investigators, and is cooperating with a federal probe into Russia’s role in the election.

His plea could add pressure on former business partner Paul Manafort also to seek a plea deal. Mr Manafort, who ran Mr Trump's campaign for part of 2016, has also been charged in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

Cooperation by the two could potentially provide a rich vein of information for Mr Mueller, who is investigating whether Mr Trump's campaign colluded with Moscow's alleged meddling.

Mr Mueller indicted Gates and Manafort in October on counts that include conspiracy to launder money and failing to disclose lobbying work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. He filed new criminal charges against the pair on Thursday. Until now, both have maintained their innocence.

Plea deals often involve promises to cooperate with an investigation in exchange for more lenient sentences.

He had been facing decades in prison on much more serious charges, including bank fraud and conspiracy to launder money, but under the charges he pleaded guilty to, he faces a maximum sentence of nearly six years.

Prosecutors said Gates could win a reduction in his sentence based on the extent of his cooperation with Mr Mueller's probe.

When Manafort became manager of the Trump campaign in the middle of 2016, Gates served as his deputy. Gates helped run the campaign's day-to-day operations, played a key role at the Republican National Convention at which Mr Trump was chosen as the party's nominee and accompanied Mr Trump on campaign flights.

Gates, a longtime protege of Manafort, was actively involved in a campaign to boost the image and fortunes of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin former president of Ukraine.

That work brought in $17 million for Manafort's lobbying firm between 2012 and 2014, payments that were not disclosed until last year after Mr Mueller's probe into their business was well underway.

Mr Mueller, appointed by the Department of Justice last year to investigate Russia's role in the election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign, has a broad brief that allows him to look into any wrongdoing uncovered in the course of his probe, including possible obstruction of justice.

Moscow has repeatedly denied it sought to meddle in the campaign to tilt the vote in favour of the Republican candidate, Mr Trump. Mr Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign, and any attempt to obstruct Mueller's probe.