Special Counsel Robert Muller hopes to use Richard Gates as a cooperating witness to link Donald Trump’s campaign to a Russian with an alleged spy background, new reports claim.
Court filings this week indicate that an alleged Russian intelligence officer communicated with Trump’s former top campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates late in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The filings name the Russian only as ‘Person A’, but he is believed to be Manafort associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian Army-trained translator possibly tied to Russian intelligence.
Gates accepted a plea deal last month, admitting to participating in financial crimes while in Manafort’s employ unrelated to the election, as well as lying to investigators.
Now, with Gates obligated to cooperate under the terms of the plea deal, Muller’s investigators want to put the screws on him to describe what he knew about contact between the Trump campaign and Russians, a person familiar with the investigation told CNN.
Rick Gates is seen last month. He accepted a plea deal, admitting to participating in financial crimes while in Manafort’s employ unrelated to the election, as well as lying to investigators
Manafort is seen earlier this month. He has pleaded not guilty to charges in two indictments filed by Mueller’s office
During the plea negotiations, Mueller’s team told Gates they weren’t interested in his testimony against Manafort, his former boss and Trump’s one-time campaign chairman, the source said. Rather they were looking for information on alleged ‘collusion’.
It is the first public sign in recent months that Mueller still hopes to uncover criminal conspiracies between the Trump campaign and Russian state actors – the initial mandate of the investigation – rather than the incidental and process crimes his investigation has thus far brought charges on.
‘The fact that an official who had an important role in the Trump campaign alongside (Paul) Manafort was dealing with an individual who he knew was tied to Russian intelligence is a big deal, as is the fact that Mueller decided to put that card face up on the table at this time,’ said a person familiar with Mueller’s investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity, referring to the Wednesday court filing about ‘Person A’.
‘He´s playing chess, and moving that piece now suggests that no matter what Trump is saying about no collusion, that part of the investigation is still very much alive,’ the person said.
Mueller is seen in June. The latest revelations are the first sign in recent months that his probe is still pursuing a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia
The Russian government has denied meddling in the 2016 election, and Trump has denied any collusion by his campaign.
Gates pleaded guilty last month to lying to the FBI and conspiring to defraud the United States, a tax evasion charge that stems from his work for Manafort before the election. In exchange for his plea, multiple other charges were dropped and his potential prison sentence was greatly reduced.
An attorney for Gates did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to charges in two indictments filed by Mueller’s office.
He has given every indication of fighting the charges all the way, with his lawyers this week demanding further information on a previously executed search warrant in an effort to get it tossed out.
The charges against Manafort range from bank fraud and filing false tax returns to conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to launder money and failing to register as a foreign agent when he lobbied for the pro-Russian government of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Lawyers for Manafort are seeking to dismiss the charges, arguing they have nothing to do with Russian interference and fall outside the scope of what Mueller is supposed to investigate, among other things.
A spokesman for Manafort, who is prevented by a court-imposed gag order from talking to the media, declined to comment.