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Former Trump Campaign Associate Pleads Guilty in Russia Probe

Rick Gates, a former associate of President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign leaves a U.S. Federal Court House after pleading guilty to lying and conspiracy charges filed against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Feb. 23, 2018. (Photo: M. Farivar)

Rick Gates, a former associate of President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy and lying charges related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election.

As part of his plea deal with Mueller's office, Gates agreed to cooperate with the special counsel's investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives. In return, prosecutors agreed to drop all other charges brought against Gates in two separate indictments in recent months.

Gates could face 57 to 71 months in prison, but prosecutors could ask for a lower sentence based on his cooperation, U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson said.

Gates is the third former Trump campaign associate to plead guilty to criminal charges and agree to cooperate with Mueller's investigation into whether there was collusion between the Trump team and Russia during the 2016 election.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos last year pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their interactions with Russian officials.

Gates faced decades in prison over a raft of charges brought by Mueller.A guilty plea to a lesser charge and cooperation with prosecutors could help him reduce jail time.

Meanwhile, Mueller's office has filed a superseding indictment against Paul Manafort, Gates' former business partner and a former Trump campaign manager, charging him with "secretly retaining a group of former senior European politicians" to lobby in the United States on behalf of the Ukrainian government and wiring "more than 2 million euros" from offshore accounts to pay them for doing so.

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the federal courthouse in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018.
Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the federal courthouse in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018.

Friday afternoon, after Gates' indictment, Manafort released a statement via Twitter. He said, "Notwithstanding that Rick Gates pled today, I continue to maintain my innocence. I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me."

An indictment released a day earlier against both Gates and Manafort accuses them of bank fraud and tax evasion, among other charges. It alleges the two men avoided taxes by hiding millions of dollars in consulting fees from Ukrainian politicians as bank loans from offshore entities.

Manafort and Gates were initially charged in a 12-count indictment in October in connection with a multi-million-dollar money laundering conspiracy tied to their political work in Ukraine. They also were accused of failing to register as agents of a foreign government.

Manafort headed the Trump campaign from June to August 2016. Gates was brought into the campaign by Manafort and stayed on even after Manafort was fired a few months later following revelations about his Russian connections.

WATCH: Gates leaves court house

Gates Leaves US Federal Courthouse After Pleading Guilty
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The charges against Gates and Manafort are not related to a key question Mueller has been investigating since his appointment last Maywhether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Last week, Muller's office announced charges against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for conspiring to disrupt the U.S. elections and tilt it in favor of the real estate tycoon. The indictment, however, did not allege collusion on the part of the Trump campaign.

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