WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former senior official in Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Rick Gates, will plead guilty on Friday to conspiracy against the United States and lying to investigators, according to court documents, in a sign he will likely cooperate with a federal probe into Russia’s role in the election.
Gates, who was a deputy campaign manager for Trump, is being investigated by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which is probing alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
A federal judge set a plea hearing for 2 p.m. (1900 GMT) for
Gates, who had been facing much more serious charges including bank fraud and conspiracy to launder money.
A guilty plea by Gates would increase pressure on Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager for five months in 2016, to also seek a plea deal.
Cooperation by the two could potentially provide a rich vein of information for Mueller, who is also investigating whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow to interfere in the election.
None of the charges to date against Gates or Manafort have made reference to any connection with Russian meddling in the 2016 election or possible collusion. Russia has denied the accusations of interference. Trump has said there was no collusion, and has also denied any attempt to obstruct Mueller’s probe.
Mueller, appointed by the Department of Justice last year, has a broad brief that allows him to look into any wrongdoing uncovered in the course of his investigation.
GATES CAMPAIGN ROLE
Gates helped run the campaign’s day-to-day operations, played a key role at the Republican National Convention at which Trump was chosen as the party’s nominee and accompanied Trump on campaign flights.
He stayed on in the campaign even after Manafort resigned in August 2016 amid a controversy over cash payments from Ukraine. After Trump’s election win in November that year, Gates was on Trump’s presidential transition team and his inaugural committee.
On Thursday, Mueller filed a 32-count indictment against Gates and Manafort that includes charges of bank fraud and lying on tax returns. Prosecutors allege that Manafort, with Gates’ assistance, laundered more than $30 million and duped banks into lending money. It says the pair used funds from secret offshore accounts to enjoy a life of luxury.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow sought to meddle in the campaign to tilt the vote in favor of Trump, the Republican candidate, including by hacking the emails of leading Democrats and distributing disinformation and propaganda online.
The White House said on Friday that the latest charges against Manafort and Gates were unrelated to Trump.
“This indictment has nothing to do with the White House or the president. As you know, we have been cooperative with the special counsel and as we continue to see, there’s no evidence of collusion, no evidence of wrongdoing,” Mercedes Schlapp, the White House strategic communications director, told Fox News Channel.