Ex-Manafort Partner May Be Negotiating With Robert Mueller

Screengrab/Washington Post/YouTube

Rick Gates, the ex-partner of Paul Manafort, may be negotiating a cooperation agreement with Robert Mueller.

When former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was arrested last year, his lesser-known partner and campaign aide Rick Gates was arrested as well. Both men pleaded not guilty to their respective charges, but it now appears that Gates could be changing course and negotiating with prosecutors.

Rick Gates has quietly added a prominent white-collar attorney, Tom Green, to his defense team, signaling that Gates' approach to his not-guilty plea could be changing behind the scenes.

Green, a well-known Washington defense lawyer, was seen at special counsel Robert Mueller's office twice last week. CNN is told by a source familiar with the matter that Green has joined Gates' team.

Gates and Manafort are not pursuing a joint defense, and there is evidence that they are not receiving equal treatment as their case proceeds:

Manafort, like Gates, has pleaded not guilty in the case, yet prosecutors and his defense attorneys have squabbled throughout Manafort's recent court action, more so than Gates' lawyers.

The judge overseeing the case finished a drawn-out process of changing Gates' bail condition last week. The federal prosecutors didn't stand in the way of Gates being released from house arrest, even after they and the judge found that his assets could barely back his $5 million bail.

Whether or not special counsel Robert Mueller has another cooperating witness in his hand remains to be seen, but if he does, Gates would be privy to a wealth of information - related to both the Trump campaign and Manafort's business dealings.

Gates and Manafort were business partners for about a decade before Manafort brought him onto the Trump campaign as his deputy. Their roles on the campaign grew as they were given more responsibilities and when campaign manager Corey Lewandowski resigned in June 2016.
The charging documents against Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos revealed that Papadopoulos emailed Manafort about his contacts with government-connected Russians and that the Russians were "open for cooperation" and wanted an opportunity to meet Donald Trump. Manafort forwarded the message to Gates and said, "Let's discuss. We need someone to communicate that (Trump) is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal."
Gates later played a key role on Trump's Presidential Inaugural Committee. His interactions with Trump and other prominent campaign officials could be of interest to Mueller's prosecutors.

Bringing Green on board is certainly interesting development, regardless the direction Gates' defense takes.

"If I were in trouble, I'd call out to somebody like Tom," said Carol Bruce, a DC white-collar lawyer who served as special counsel in a US Senate ethics investigation and as independent counsel in another federal investigation.