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Manafort, Gates Choose Divergent Paths in Response to Mueller Probe


Rick Gates, a former associate of President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign leaves a U.S. Federal Court House after pleading guilty to lying and conspiracy charges filed against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Feb. 23, 2018. (Photo: M. Farivar)

Under growing legal pressure from special counsel Robert Mueller, former Trump campaign aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates took divergent paths Friday, with Gates pleading guilty to two felony counts and Manafort facing new charges in the Russia probe.

Gates, 45, appeared in federal court in Washington to enter a plea of guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of lying to FBI and special counsel investigators as recently as Feb. 1 while he was negotiating a plea agreement with Mueller’s office.

As part of his plea deal, Gates agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s probe into whether the Trump election campaign colluded with Russia. He could potentially testify against Manafort as well. In return, prosecutors agreed to drop all other charges brought against Gates in two indictments handed down in recent months.

The guilty plea came a day after a grand jury handed down a new indictment against Gates and Manafort, escalating the pressure on the two men.

But while Gates cut a deal with Mueller’s office, Trump’s former campaign chairman, Manafort, 68, remained defiant, even as Mueller announced new charges against him.

Manafort indictment

In a four-count superseding indictment disclosed shortly after Gates pleaded guilty, prosecutors accused Manafort of secretly paying former European Union officials to lobby members of the U.S. Congress on behalf of Ukraine.

In a statement released Friday, Manafort said he had no plans to follow Gates’ lead and plead guilty.

“I continue to maintain my innocence,” he said.

“I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence,” Manafort added in his statement. “For reasons yet to surface, he chose to do otherwise.”

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the federal courthouse in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018.
Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the federal courthouse in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018.

Gates could face 57 to 71 months in prison, but prosecutors could ask for a lower sentence based on his cooperation, Federal Judge Amy Jackson said. Before his plea, Gates faced decades in prison over a raft of charges brought by Mueller.

Gates is the third former Trump campaign associate to plead guilty to criminal charges and agree to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation into whether there was collusion between the Trump team and Russia during the 2016 election.

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos last year pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their interactions with Russian officials.

Meanwhile, Mueller’s office filed a superseding indictment against Manafort, charging him with paying former European politicians to lobby in the United States on behalf of a pro-Russia political faction in Ukraine.

2017 indictment

Manafort and Gates were initially charged in a 12-count indictment in October in connection with a multimillion-dollar money laundering conspiracy tied to their political work in Ukraine. They also were accused of failing to register as agents of a foreign government.

Manafort headed the Trump campaign from June to August 2016. Gates was brought into the campaign by Manafort and stayed on after Manafort was fired a few months later following revelations about his Russian connections.

WATCH: Gates leaves court house

Gates Leaves US Federal Courthouse After Pleading Guilty
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The charges against Gates and Manafort are not related to a key question Mueller has been investigating since his appointment last May — whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Last week, Muller’s office announced charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for conspiring to disrupt the U.S. elections and tilt it in favor of the real estate tycoon. The indictment, however, did not allege collusion on the part of the Trump campaign.