Paul Manafort’s Business Partner Left Pro-Trump Group Because of Russia Ties, Sources Say

The president’s ex-campaign manager was bounced thanks to his alleged ties to Moscow, but his No. 2 never really left—until now.

Matt Rourke

The swirling maelstrom around President Donald Trump and his team’s alleged ties to Russia may have claimed another victim on Thursday.

Rick Gates, one of six former Trump campaign aides who joined the nonprofit group America First Policies to support Trump’s agenda, left the organization just two months into the president’s term. On Thursday night America First Policies announced on Twitter that Gates was leaving the group.

America First Policies spokesperson Katrina Pierson told The Daily Beast that Gates was done with his work for the nonprofit and simply moved on.

“Rick volunteered to help set up the organization and build out the administrative tasks,” Pierson said. “Now that everything is up and running, he has decided to move on to his next project. We are appreciative of his work.”

She denied that his departure had anything to do with a slew of recent stories about former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and claimed that Gates had planned to move along to other projects anyway.

“We just wanted to notify everyone in real time so that there wouldn’t be a flurry of rumors,” Pierson told The Daily Beast. “Of course, it seems that we were kidding ourselves.”

But according to three former Trump campaign officials familiar with the inner dealings of the organization, this was not exactly the case.

“Heat is on,” one person who requested anonymity said immediately after the announcement.

Gates’s departure, according to the sources, was due to a combination of the nonprofit’s troubled start and his proximity to Manafort, who is reportedly a target of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. FBI Director James Comey officially confirmed the investigation on Monday before a House panel.

As The Daily Beast previously reported, America First Policies hadn’t done much to rally behind the president in the first months of his administration. Republican super-donor Rebekah Mercer initially walked away from backing the project due to former campaign digital director Brad Parscale’s refusal to show her tax returns. Another former campaign official who worked on America First Policies, David Bossie, also departed the organization this month. Politico reported on Friday that the White House was concerned about the group’s absence ahead of a term-defining health care vote which was pulled on Friday.

“I haven’t seen any evidence of any work that they’re doing or any fundraising they’re doing,” a previous Trump campaign official told The Daily Beast.

But Gates’s association with Manafort and Russia might have been the final straw.

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Gates joined Manafort’s firm Davis Manafort in 2006. Early on in their partnership, Gates and Manafort had Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin, as a client but the business relationship quickly went south. According to a report in the Washington Post from August, 2016, Deripaska accused Gates and Manafort of taking some $19 million intended for investments, failing to account for the money and then not responding to questions about what the money was used for. Manafort’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment from The Post at the time.

Deripaska’s attorneys went on to claim that they could not find either Manafort or Gates and hired a private investigator to track them down, according to a petition filed in a Cayman Islands court. By 2014, Manafort and Gates were working in Washington, D.C. to promote policies favored by Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych.

Manafort brought Gates along to join the Trump campaign in April 2016, and from then on he reportedly performed the duties of deputy campaign manager before Manafort left. After Manafort exited the campaign in August 2016 after increasing criticism of his ties to Russia, Gates apparently stayed in the Trump orbit. Campaign spokesman Jason Miller said at the time that Gates would be the campaign’s liaison to the Republican National Committee, though others said that he was no longer affiliated.

“Trump wanted him gone,” a former official claimed to The Daily Beast. “He became friends with Reince [Priebus] and shipped him over to the RNC. He was out of sight of Trump. Apparently he’s made nice with the kids. He was essentially running the inaugural.”

“Trump had ordered Bossie to fire Gates about six times,” one source told The Daily Beast previously. When Manafort left and as Gates stuck around, a number of former campaign officials grew to dislike him and suggested to The Daily Beast that his presence was unwanted.

After the election in November, Gates was reportedly planning Trump’s inauguration.

“Rick Gates should be nowhere near anything that has to do with Donald Trump,” one official told The Daily Beast.

A recent story in The Washington Post about Manafort’s proximity to Gates contributed to the final decision according to a former official.

It is unclear though who exactly told Gates to go or if he left of his own volition. Pierson told The Daily Beast that he left of his own accord and that she was happy with his work.

“Seriously, Rick is a hard worker and is very good with admin and organization,” Pierson said. “He’s always been very helpful. He’s been around at least since 2004 and knows a lot of people around DC. The startup was finished over the weekend and the rest of the first line of ads were delivered Monday, so when he says that he needs to go work on his next project, we said thanks again!”

His next project remains unknown.

Gates did not respond to an email or phone call about his decision to leave. Parscale also did not respond to a request for comment.

But for some former officials who often claimed that Gates would boss them around and then respond with “don’t shoot the messenger” when they questioned him, the news of his departure was welcomed with open arms.

“After hearing ‘Dude, don’t shoot the messenger’ for months, I’m happy to see that karma got her gun working again,” one official told The Daily Beast.