Faced with an ever-encroaching investigation into collusion between Russian officials and members of the Trump campaign, the White House has insisted that the people being pinpointed are, basically, nothing-burgers.
Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort wasn’t involved with the campaign for all that long, White House officials have stressed. As for foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI over the extent of his Russia contacts, well, he was a volunteer who made those contacts on his own volition.
And then there’s Rick Gates.
Gates, the longtime lobbying partner of Manafort, was indicted alongside his previous business partner on Monday. Long after Manafort formally left the presidential campaign, Gates lingered around in a number of capacities. He visited the White House numerous times, including as recently as this summer. And on top of that, he was one of six former Trump campaign aides who helped start the nonprofit group America First Policies to support the president’s agenda shortly after his inauguration.
And yet, on Monday, Gates too found his place under the proverbial bus. Though he had left America First Policies just two months into President Trump’s term, another official with that organization, Katrina Pierson, now insists that he was never formally involved.
“As a matter of practice, America First Policies does not respond to specific questions about persons or entities formerly associated with America First Policies,” she wrote in an emailed statement to The Daily Beast. “However, we believe it is important to clarify that Rick Gates’ association with America First Polices [sic] was informal and limited; and, as noted in press reports, ended around March of this year. Since then, he has had no formal or informal role with the organization.”
Gates’ involvement in the Russia scandal had gone relatively under-appreciated prior to Monday. He never had the flashy title, a la Manafort. And he isn’t currently tied towards an effort at collusion, a la Papadopoulos. But his associations with Trump world are there, despite the denials. Just how extensive they are though is not entirely known because the White House does not keep active visitor logs for public disclosure. The White House did not respond to a request for comment seeking details on how many times he may have visited.
Gates joined Manafort’s firm Davis Manafort in 2006. Early on in their partnership, the two had as a client Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin. 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 how that money was used.
In April 2016, Manafort brought Gates along to join the Trump campaign. He performed some of the duties of deputy campaign manager prior to Manafort’s departure.
When Manafort exited the campaign in August 2016 due to mounting criticism and concern over the then-campaign chairman’s work in Ukraine, Gates remained 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 did not personally want Gates hanging around, sources told The Daily Beast. “[He] had ordered [David] Bossie to fire Gates about six times,” one source said.
There were a number of reasons as to why. A Washington Post story from June 2016 detailing a company called Left Hand Enterprises LLC, caught Trump’s attention according to sources. The report detailed how the Trump campaign had quickly cut $730,637 worth of checks to the newly-formed LLC over a five day period in May 2016. The payments were initially intended for a direct-mail campaign, specifically in Nebraska and Indiana.
Once it became clear that the two states were no longer competitive, the mail campaign was axed and it remains unclear as to where the money went after the fact.
Nevertheless, Gates remained around. And after the election, he was reportedly directly involved in planning Trump’s inauguration, working with Tom Barrack, a millionaire and previous Trump fundraiser who went on to lead the inaugural committee.
Since the inauguration, Barrack visited the White House multiple times and has even been floated as a potential chief of staff. White House officials told The Daily Beast in June that Barrack had visited the White House with Gates in tow, despite the fact that the president previously expressed his displeasure with Gates.
“Trump still hates him,” a GOP source familiar with the relationship told The Daily Beast, describing Gates as “Manafort’s rabbi.”
Barrack did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
After the election, Gates joined America First Policies. However, three former Trump campaign officials familiar with the organization and its inner workings told The Daily Beast that there were concerns about his proximity to Manafort and a slew of negative stories about his foreign dealings.
On Monday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed at least 12 federal charges against Manafort and Gates including a fraud-related charge of “conspiracy against the United States.” Both men pleaded not guilty on Monday afternoon.
“This fight is just beginning,” Gate’s spokesman, Glenn Selig, said upon his not guilty plea.