What now looks likely to be a plea deal agreed to by Rick Gates is a very big deal. What’s not clear yet is who it’s a big deal for.
Gates is the longtime deputy to Paul Manafort. He worked for him and with him on most or all of his overseas endeavors going back many years. Gates’ cooperation seems likely to be a devastating blow to Paul Manafort. But remember, none of Manafort’s alleged crimes are tied directly to the 2016 election. It’s all financial crimes related to his pre-election consulting work. Gates’ cooperation could seal Manafort’s fate. But in terms of the public questions – crimes committed by the President or his associates or anything related to Russian interference in the 2016 election – we don’t know what it means or if it means anything at all.
Let’s assume the hypothetical that Paul Manafort knows significant information about collusion or bad acts by Americans (or Russians or other non-Americans, for that matter) tied to Russian interference in the 2016 election. I’m not being coy about this. We don’t know whether this is true. But assume for the moment it is.
We don’t know much about what cooperation Gates has promised. We shouldn’t assume any more than that he has agreed to cooperate in helping the special counsel get guilty verdicts on the crimes Manafort has already been charged with – again, various kinds of financial crimes. Perhaps Gates knows about Russia/collusion stuff himself – the investigators may not know the full details themselves yet. But that doesn’t seem to be what’s going on here.
In any case, the case against Manafort appears to strong. Having his top deputy cooperating only makes it stronger. We’re still back to what does Manafort know? Does he know anything that he can use to avoid a lengthy prison terms? And if he does, will he reveal it to save himself? It’s little surprise that Gates is making this decision. If anything it’s surprising to me that it’s taken this long. Gates is 45 years old and according to an AP analysis is facing as much as 70 years in prison. That’s probably not likely. But he could spend most of the rest of his life behind bars. That’s a high price to pay for loyalty, especially for someone in the prime of life and with a young family. Manafort is 68 and facing as many as 80 years in prison. Now we find out his choice – assuming he knows anything that could be of use to Mueller’s investigation.