For more than a decade, Rick Gates served as a loyal deputy to Paul Manafort, trailing his boss’s lucrative lobbying career from the United States to Ukraine and back. When Manafort joined the Donald Trump campaign as a top aide last year, Gates served as his trusted lieutenant.
That loyalty is likely to be tested now, after federal prosecutors unsealed a 12-count indictment against Gates and Manafort on Monday morning. The charges allege the two men conspired to hide tens of milliions of dollars in payments from Viktor Yanukovych, the autocratic former president of Ukraine, by laundering the money through foreign accounts.
Gates never attained the public profile of his boss, who became something of a lobbying legend after he founded the firm Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly in the 1980s. (Until this morning, Gates did not even merit a Wikipedia page.) But, as the indictment makes clear, Gates was intimately intertwined with Manafort’s recent work, serving as a key behind-the-scenes player in the alleged money laundering and as an important cog in Trump’s campaign.
Gates joined Black, Manafort around the time Manafort left in the mid-1990s, but the two were eventually connected by Rick Davis, another up-and-coming lobbyist, who had founded a new firm with Manafort, which Gates joined in 2006. According to the indictment, the criminal activity began almost immediately. The firm agreed to work for Yanukovych beginning in 2006 while concealing the nature of that work as they routed millions of dollars through foreign accounts to evade reporting requirements and the IRS. When Davis left the firm in 2008 to manage John McCain’s campaign, Gates took over some of his foreign duties, according to the New York Times. That reportedly included putting his name on some of the paperwork used to route money through shell companies in Cyprus.
“Everything was done legally and with the approval of our lawyers,” Gates told the Times last year. “Nothing to my knowledge was ever done inappropriately.”
While Manafort dealt directly with Yanukovych, it was Gates who communicated instructions to the companies that were quietly lobbying for the Ukrainian president’s interests in the U.S., according to prosecutors. After Manafort and Gates joined Trump’s floundering campaign in May of 2016, their Ukrainian work became a hot topic for reporters. Gates sent “false talking points” to the lobbying firms, spelling out how they should respond to incoming inquiries. In response to those talking points, an unnamed representative for one of those companies replied to Gates: “There's a lot of email traffic that has you much more involved than this suggest[s],” according to the indictment. Gates also performed the more mundane tasks required to keep Manafort’s finances afloat. When the boss needed to misrepresent the nature of a rental property, Gates drew up some paperwork claiming it was a second home of Manafort’s daughter and son-in-law, according to the indictment.
It's not clear how much Gates personally profited from his work with Manafort. The indictment alleges the two generated “tens of millions of dollars” by consulting for Ukraine, and it includes a list of more than $12 million in personal expenses for Manafort, along with assets that include four homes. But there are no corresponding lists for Gates.
Whether that makes him more likely to cooperate with prosecutors remains to be seen. But if special counsel Robert Mueller’s strategy is to roll cooperating witnesses up the chain of command, then Gates could be an even better target than Manafort. Gates was privy to all of the Trump campaign’s inner workings—he reportedly helped deflect when a Russian liaison expressed interest in scheduling a meeting with Trump in Moscow—and he stayed in Trump’s orbit even after Manafort was exiled for his Russian ties. Gates served as a liaison to the Republican National Committee and later as an official on the presidential transition team. He was a principal organizer of a pro-Trump super PAC until his Manafort ties caught up to him and he was ousted from the group in March.
Gates is scheduled to be arraigned, alongside Manafort, on Monday afternoon.