Trump campaign aide Rick Gates to plead guilty in Mueller investigation

Former Donald Trump campaign official Rick Gates is expected to plead guilty to criminal charges in special counsel Robert Mueller's wide-ranging investigation of Russian meddling into the 2016 presidential campaign. (File Photo)

Former Donald Trump campaign official Rick Gates will plead guilty to two criminal charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation of Russian meddling into the 2016 presidential campaign and related activities.

His arraignment is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday.

Gates is now the third Trump associate known to be working with Mueller’s investigation, and his plea deal will put the spotlight on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Prosecutors are trying to pressure Manafort to speak with prosecutors about what he knows, particularly about the campaign.

Gates was Manafort’s right-hand man for a decade, was privy to most, if not all, of Manafort’s activities during the campaign and stayed in the Trump orbit after Manafort’s exit. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.

The charges Gates is expected to plead to are conspiracy to commit to defraud the United States and making false statements.

Thursday, prosecutors described a “scheme” in which the two longtime business partners allegedly laundered $30 million, failed to pay taxes for almost 10 years and used real estate they owned to fraudulently secure more than $20 million in loans.

Gates said that despite his “initial desire to vigorously defend myself,” he has had a “change of heart” in order to protect his family, according to a letter sent to his family and friends, obtained by CNN from a Gates friend.

“The reality of how long this legal process will likely take, the cost, and the circus-like atmosphere of an anticipated trial are too much,” Gates wrote. “I will better serve my family moving forward by exiting this process.”

He wrote that it was “difficult decision” to make, but that ensuring his family’s “well-being is first and foremost.”

“The consequence is the public humiliation, which at this moment seems like a small price to pay for what our children would have to endure otherwise,” he said.

Last Friday, the special counsel produced grand jury indictments for 13 Russian nationals, accusing them of operating a misinformation campaign to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential effort.

Plea in motion for weeks

Gates has been in negotiations with Mueller’s office for more than a month, and that Gates had spoken to prosecutors about his case since his indictment, CNN previously reported.

Defense lawyer Tom Green, who’s handled the plea negotiation for Gates, told the court he’d represent Gates officially Thursday night, a strong indication that Gates was on the precipice of a plea deal with prosecutors. Gates’ trial lawyers have now left the case.

Even as of yesterday, Gates’ friends had tried to convince him not to plead guilty and sought for him a lawyer who would discount his cost, but Gates changed his mind.

Gates rejected several offers of a deal from the special counsel in recent days. Although at times this week a deal appeared to be off, talks were still continuing throughout Thursday until the deal was done, according to sources familiar with the matter.