Mueller not ready for Trump aide’s sentencing

Chad Day
Associated Press
Rick Gates

Washington – Rick Gates, a former senior campaign aide to President Donald Trump, will have to wait at least another two months for his sentencing date in the Russia investigation, prosecutors said Tuesday.

In a new court filing, special counsel Robert Mueller’s team said they’re not ready for Gates’ sentencing because he is continuing to cooperate with “several” ongoing investigations. It’s unclear if the delay is an indication of the timeline of Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference or a reflection of the status of the other investigations.

Gates has been a key cooperator in Mueller’s probe as he works to answer a question that has shadowed the Trump presidency from the start: Did Trump or his associates coordinate with the Kremlin’s large-scale effort to sway the election his way?

Aside from the Russia investigation, Gates is involved in probes of foreign lobbying related to his former boss, ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. He is also reportedly involved in a federal investigation of Trump’s inaugural committee, where Gates served in a senior role.

The filing adds to conflicting signals about Mueller’s endgame in recent weeks. Some signs have indicated he is wrapping sometime soon, including the planned departure in the coming weeks of Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the probe. But a judge also recently extended the service of Mueller’s grand jury through at least midsummer and the special counsel’s office continues to fight through the appellate courts to compel the testimony of at least one uncooperative witness.

The filing also comes as Trump is directly denying being an agent of the Russian government. The president’s comments came after The Washington Post reported that he has hid from top U.S. national security officials the details of his one-on-one interactions with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The New York Times also reported last week that the FBI in 2017 opened a counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump, as the American president, was working on Russia’s behalf.

The special counsel took over that investigation into Trump’s Russia ties in May 2017 and has not yet directly accused Trump, his campaign officials or any other Americans of actively colluding with the Kremlin.

In Gates’ case, he pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and false statement charges related to Ukrainian lobbying and political consulting he carried out with Manafort. But prosecutors have indicated Gates’ cooperation has been wide-ranging, noting last year that his more than 20 meetings with prosecutors weren’t confined to his work for Manafort.

Gates, as a top campaign adviser, could provide details about the highest levels of Trump’s campaign during key episodes in the presidential election including a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting involving Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and a Russian attorney that was billed as an opportunity to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Gates was also a senior official on Trump’s inaugural committee, which according to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, has also drawn the scrutiny of federal prosecutors in New York. During court testimony last year, Gates also admitted to “possibly” stealing money from the committee. And in a case referred by Mueller, federal prosecutors in Washington have investigated efforts on behalf of Ukrainian interests to circumvent the ban on foreign contributions to the committee.

Gates is also a central figure in another Mueller spin-off investigation led by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. That probe focuses on whether the lobbying firms of Washington insiders Tony Podesta, a prominent Democrat, and Vin Weber, a former GOP congressman, violated federal law by deciding not to register as foreign agents for Ukrainian lobbying directed by Manafort and Gates.

Prosecutors are interested in when Mercury Public Affairs and the Podesta Group knew they were working on behalf of the Ukrainian government, rather than a Brussels-based nonprofit that prosecutors have said served as a cut out for the foreign lobbying work.

The firms have denied any wrongdoing.