WASHINGTON – Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates was sentenced Tuesday to 45 days in jail, a departure from a probation sentence prosecutors said he deserved in exchange for being a witness in the Russia investigation.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the jail sentence will be intermittent – Gates will spend weekends behind bars. He will be on probation for three years, must pay $20,000 in fines and must do 300 hours of community service.
Jackson said Gates’ cooperation with prosecutors was “an important public service.” Gates testified in “three cases already and maybe more, sometimes against friends and former colleagues and partners. … He was forthcoming about his own lies and wrongdoing.”
But the judge said a short incarceration is “appropriate,” noting she has seen defendants from less privileged backgrounds spend more time behind bars for lesser crimes. Incarceration, she said, should not be a punishment only for the disadvantaged.
Gates is one of six former Trump associates and campaign aides indicted as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.
Gates testified against two of them, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and longtime Trump ally Roger Stone. Both were convicted.
Citing Gates’ “extraordinary” cooperation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston agreed with defense attorneys that he should be sentenced to probation. Gaston said it’s hard to imagine the “turbulent atmosphere” in which Gates decided to plead guilty.
“He understood that pleading guilty would mean public testimony that would make him and his family the subject of intense scrutiny,” Gaston said at a hearing in federal court in Washington.
Yet, Gaston said, Gates “decided to do the right thing.”
Gates and Manafort, longtime business associates, were indicted in Washington in October 2017. They were charged with failing to register as foreign agents for work they did for Ukraine and making false statements to investigators to conceal that work.
The two were indicted again in February 2018 in Virginia, where Gates was charged with assisting Manafort in a years-long scheme to hide millions of dollars of income from foreign governments. Prosecutors charged that many of their crimes were related to work they did for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
“For more than a decade, Gates engaged in a range of crimes at Manafort’s direction,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “Gates, at Manafort’s direction, helped conceal the nature of their work, the income derived from it, and the overseas accounts where those funds were maintained. Gates assisted in laundering funds to promote the scheme.”
Over the course of four years, Gates helped Manafort hide more than $15 million from tax authorities. Gates personally benefited from the crimes by not reporting $3 million on tax returns over several years and stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort’s overseas accounts, prosecutors said.
Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements about his status as a foreign agent. Both are felonies.
The rest of the charges were dropped. Gates met with investigators more than 50 times.
In November, Gates testified against Stone, a longtime GOP operative. The charges against Stone stemmed from his back-channel efforts to push for the release of stolen emails to damage the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton.
Prosecutors charged that Stone lied to Congress about his knowledge of the release of those stolen emails during the 2016 campaign. Gates recounted overhearing a phone conversation between Stone and then-candidate Trump in July 2016, when Gates was part of the campaign. After Trump hung up, he told Gates, “More information is coming.”
Stone was convicted. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in February.
Gates also testified at the trial of Greg Craig, a high-powered Washington lawyer and former Obama White House counsel who was accused of making false statements to investigators about his work for Ukraine. The charge against Craig stemmed from work he did in 2012 on behalf of a pro-Russian political faction in Ukraine, part of Manafort’s illicit lobbying.
Craig was acquitted, but prosecutors said the acquittal should not diminish Gates’ cooperation. They described his testimony as “truthful and corroborated” by others, according to court filings.
“He should be commended for standing up to provide information and public testimony against individuals such as Manafort, Craig, and Stone, knowing well that they enjoy support from the upper echelons of American politics and society,” prosecutors wrote in the sentencing memorandum.
Gaston, the assistant U.S. attorney, said Manafort pressured Gates not to cooperate with prosecutors and offered him a defense fund.
Gates joined the Trump campaign as deputy campaign manager in March 2016 and became deputy chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee. His defense attorneys said he has not been able to find employment since his indictment in 2017.
Gates read a brief statement in court before Jackson announced her decision.
“I accept complete responsibility for my actions that have led me to appear before you here today. I greatly regret the mistakes,” he said. “My family and I appreciate your consideration for leniency, and I hope and pray that you would give that to me.”
His attorneys acknowledged his misconduct, saying in court filings he “could have refused” to engage in Manafort’s crimes.
“Instead, he assisted Mr. Manafort in some of his criminal activity, and in the process he succumbed to temptation and engaged in unlawful conduct on a much smaller scale for his own benefit,” his attorneys wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “In contrast, the life he has led these past two years is part of his continuing effort to make amends.”
Other former Trump associates who were indicted as part of the Mueller probe are former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign aide George Papadopoulos and former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with a former Russian ambassador. He is scheduled to be sentenced in January after a judge rejected his claim that prosecutors forced him to admit to crimes he didn’t commit.
Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts, served two weeks in prison.
Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and other crimes.
Contributing: Brad Heath and Kevin Johnson
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