Asked Monday about the explosive indictment of two former Trump campaign officials, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded with a familiar refrain, casting the pair as independent actors whose alleged misdeeds were entirely unrelated to the campaign.
“Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the President and nothing to do with the President’s campaign or campaign activity,” an indignant Sanders said at the daily press briefing of the fraud, money laundering and other counts against former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and adviser Rick Gates.
This effort to minimize their relationship with the campaign belies the facts, particularly in Gates’ case. Manafort’s business partner remained a key player in Trumpworld long after Manafort himself was forced out of the campaign over concerns about his work abroad. Gates coordinated behind-the-scenes preparations for Trump’s inauguration and served on a pro-Trump super PAC in the early months of 2017.
And as the Miami Herald reported Monday, a domestic entity listed in the indictment as one of the corporations Manafort and Gates used to hide foreign earnings even accepted a total of $70,000 from the Republican National Committee for “political strategy services” it provided in coordination with the Trump campaign, suggesting the line between Gates’ work for the campaign and his illicit dealings wasn’t quite so bright.
Gates and Manafort’s professional histories are closely intertwined. From their mid-2000s lobbying work for a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party, the source of many of the millions they allegedly funneled through offshore bank accounts, to the time they joined the Trump campaign in the March 2016, Gates served as Manafort’s right-hand man.
The pair was brought on to help wrangle delegates in Trump’s favor at the Republican National Convention, and did so from a box in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena that the Daily Beast reported was nicknamed “The Eagle’s Nest”—a reference to a Nazi Party country home gifted to Adolf Hitler.
Manafort was abruptly forced from the campaign in August 2016 amid a flood of increasingly troubling news reports about his work for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russia former president of Ukraine. But Gates stayed on, and ended up developing closer ties to those in Trump’s inner circle. As the campaign said at the time, he became the RNC liaison, working from both the party’s and the Trump campaign’s headquarters. Bade LLC, a company listed in the indictment as an entity used to allegedly hide foreign funds that the Miami Herald reported has an address associated with Gates, received $70,000 in three installments from the RNC dated Sept. 2016, Oct. 2016 and Jan. 2017 for work done in coordination with the campaign.
After Election Day, real estate investor and close Trump pal Tom Barrack enlisted Gates to serve as one of his top deputies on the Presidential Inauguration Committee.
Gates subsequently became one of six campaign aides to found a nonprofit called “America First Policies” aimed at furthering Trump’s agenda; he was forced out in March over growing questions about the work he did with Manafort in Ukraine. The group further tried to distance itself from Gates on Monday, insisting his association was “informal and limited.”
As the Daily Beast reported, Gates’ Trump connections helped him land on his feet and even get inside the White House doors through a gig working directly for Barrack. The millionaire Trump donor would routinely bring Gates along when he stopped by the West Wing for meetings with the President, according to the Beast’s June report.
It was around this time that Gates’ name resurfaced in the news, including in a memo to the presidential transition requesting all documents related to Russia, Ukraine and a number of campaign advisers and officials, including him and Manafort.
Gates also agreed to be interviewed by the New York Times for a profile, in which he said it was “totally ridiculous and without merit” to allege any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and insisted all of his work for Ukraine was “done legally and with the approval of our lawyers.”
He was ultimately indicted for a wide-ranging money laundering conspiracy and multiple violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.