Rick Gates: A Trump Survivor Is Tested by Mueller Probe - NBC New York
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Rick Gates: A Trump Survivor Is Tested by Mueller Probe

Gates' resilience is now Trump's headache

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    Inside Trump Tower, some knew Rick Gates as "the walking dead."

    He had somehow survived the ouster of his closest campaign ally, chairman Paul Manafort, and Donald Trump himself had ordered Gates off the campaign more than once.

    Yet Gates, Manafort's longtime deputy, maintained a significant role in Trump's presidential campaign. He went on to manage Trump's $107 million inauguration fund. And he would soon become a regular visitor to the White House.

    Gates' resilience is now Trump's headache. Both Manafort and Gates were indicted on a dozen damaging charges related to their consulting work, but it's Gates, the lesser known of the two, who brings the scandal into the White House. Few people had more intimate knowledge of the Trump campaign's day-to-day operations, its work with outside groups and the Republican National Committee and its transition to governing.

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    Gates, like Manafort, faces charges of conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as unregistered foreign agents and making false statements. Both have pleaded not guilty. Gates, a 45-year-old father of four, ages 6 to 14, would likely receive at least 10 years in prison if convicted, prosecutors wrote this week.

    He is expected to appear in court Thursday.

    "He is not going to comment further until he has had a chance to review the lengthy indictment with his legal team," said Gates' spokesman Glenn Selig. He added, "This fight is just beginning."

    Gates, respected by some and hated by others in Trump's orbit, was known as a no-nonsense detail-oriented executive. The son of an Army officer, he was born in Fort Lee, Virginia and spent parts of his childhood on military bases in Kentucky, North Carolina and Germany before his father retired back in Virginia, according to Selig.

    Gates and Manafort first crossed paths roughly three decades ago, when Gates served as an intern for Manafort's political consulting firm. The men, separated by 23 years, grew much closer in the mid-2000s, when Gates joined another Manafort-led firm that did work across Eastern Europe and Africa, and served such clients as Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Federal court filings suggest that Manafort and Gates made millions of dollars working together for much of the next decade.

    "I've known him literally since he was out of college," said Charlie Black, a former Manafort partner who hired Gates after his internship. "Very smart. Very competent. Very fine person. He's had some responsibilities in different jobs where he proved his capability and professionalism. Give him a mission and he'd get it done."

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    Manafort and Gates' specific client list over the years is unclear. Black said the pair worked together during the presidential nominating conventions of George W. Bush and Bob Dole. Gates' public profile for the company led by his father, Gates Group International, states only that he worked on "several presidential campaigns and has participated in many international political campaigns in Europe and Africa."

    Manafort was the strong personality who built relationships with clients. Gates was the lower-key doer. And in the Trump campaign, Gates was the survivor.

    He flashed his skills last summer in the days after Manafort was forced out of the campaign amid damaging reports that he had secretly accepted millions of dollars from a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine.

    Trump ordered that Gates be forced out as well, according to someone in Trump's circle at the time. Informed several weeks later that Gates was still on staff, Trump erupted, saying he wanted Gates out immediately. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private discussions.

    It's unclear how Gates was able to hang on.

    Perplexed by Gates' continued presence on Trump Tower's 14th floor, the heartbeat of the campaign, some staffers jokingly began to refer to him as "the Walking Dead."

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    He took up regular residence in an office reserved for the campaign's digital director, Brad Parscale, according to two campaign staffers who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss campaign operations.

    Gates continued to have his detractors within the campaign and some raised flags about his financial management.

    That June, the campaign began an internal review of certain spending authorized by Gates. After a tense meeting in which a Trump Organization official questioned the spending, Trump turned over control of the campaign checkbook to the chief operating officer, Arizona Treasurer Jeff Dewit, according to two people familiar with the discussions who spoke anonymously to avoid antagonizing former colleagues.

    Despite the concerns, Gates would stay on with the campaign before moving to a position at the Republican National Committee for the final months of the campaign, a position that gave him continued access to the campaign's daily operations. He also played a leading role on the team that coordinated Trump's transition to the White House. Much of Gates' work came during a period under intense scrutiny from special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators.

    Gates would later take on a senior role for Trump's inauguration that gave him day-to-day authority over a $107 million budget. Some spending decisions came under scrutiny there as well, including a pre-inaugural Lincoln Memorial concert, which came with a $25 million price tag, according to an Associated Press report.

    Gates maintained close contact with Trump's world this year even though he didn't ultimately go to work in the White House. After a brief stint at a pro-Trump super PAC, he served as a Washington consultant for one of Trump's closest allies, inauguration chairman Tom Barrack, for much of the last six months, according to Barrack spokesman Owen Blicksilver. He said that Gates' contract was terminated on Monday, the same day of his indictment.

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    Gates' continued prominence in Trump's new political world came even as the White House began trying to distance itself from Manafort.

    The two men have been linked for more than a decade, with Gates serving as the elder Manafort's right hand man. Federal prosecutors allege that the pair worked together between 2006 and 2015 as unregistered foreign agents for Ukraine and the pro-Russian leader, Victor Yanukovych. They allege that Gates and Manafort hid millions of dollars in compensation and laundered money through several domestic and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts.

    The indictment alleges that Manafort used his hidden wealth "to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States," spending millions of dollars on luxury goods and services and multi-million dollar properties in multiple states. There is no such allegation against Gates, although he lives in a Richmond, Virginia home valued at $1.8 million with his two sons and two daughters.

    Gates' level of wealth is unclear.

    A federal filing reveals that while Manafort listed the value of his assets as $136 million in May 2016, Gates listed his and his wife's net worth as high as $30 million on a credit application in February of 2016, but as low as $2.6 million on a loan application the next month. Court records show he also is charged with moving $3 million through offshore accounts.

    Black described Gates as a man of "high character."

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    "What's happened is tragic. I hope those guys are innocent," he said. "But I don't know. I have no idea what they actually did."

    Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.