The White House not only has a Paul Manafort problem, it also has a Rick Gates problem. Both were indicted Monday, and Gates' ties to the White House are even stronger than Manafort's.
With two senior Trump campaign officials being indicted on Monday by special counsel Robert Mueller, the Trump White House is scrambling to downplay the development by stressing that Paul Manafort, who served as the campaign chairman, has played no official role in the current administration.
One source close to the White House dismissed Manafort as a “bad" guy who had nothing to do with Trump’s White House team.
But when it comes to distancing itself from the emerging legal morass, the White House has a much tougher sell with regards to the second Trump adviser indicted Monday: Manafort’s protégé Rick Gates.
Because unlike Manafort, who was removed from the campaign last summer after questions surfaced about his previous business dealing in Ukraine and Russia, and whether he had taken millions of dollars from Kremlin allies, Gates stayed on with the campaign past the summer.
At one point during the general election, Trump pollster Kellyanne Conway referred to herself and Gates as being part of the campaign’s “core four,” Along with Manafort and Steve Bannon.
Last year, “Gates traveled often with Mr. Trump and forged relationships with Reince Priebus, the future chief of staff, and Brad Parscale, the campaign’s digital director,” The New York Times reported. “Mr. Gates was soon established in Mr. Trump’s circle.”
Reuters reported that “Gates essentially functioned as the Trump campaign manager for more than two months.”
Following the election, Gates regularly visited the White House as part of Trump’s inner circle, and then helped run a pro-Trump messaging group this year, the $25 million America First Policies to defend Trump's agenda.
“Even as Trump officials downplay Manafort’s role, his decade-long business associate Rick Gates remains entrenched in the president’s operation,” the Washington Post reported in March.
As for how many times Gates went to the Trump White House, we don’t know because the White House won’t make visitor logs available to the public.
Gates was subsequently forced out of America First Policies after the Associated Press reported Manafort had sought to further Russian government interests in his work for a Russian businessman.
Gates has served as Manafort’s protégé for decades, as Manafort lined up lucrative contracts working with dictators and strongmen, including Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Within Eastern Europe, one of the duo’s high-profile clients was Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Moscow politician who tried to market as a reformer. Yanukovych fled Ukraine during an early 2014 revolution and now lives in exile in Russia.
From Monday's unsealed 12-count indictment, which includes money laundering, making misleading statements to federal investigators, and conspiracy against the United States:
Manafort and Gates generated tens of millions of dollars in income as a result of their Ukraine work. In order to hide Ukraine payments from United States authorities, from approximately 2006 through at least 2016, Manfort and Gates laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnership and bank accounts.
Manafort and Gates were two of the most important figures from Trump’s 2016 campaign, and now they’re being charged with crimes committed during 2016. The White House is going to struggle trying to pretend the administration is not part of this emerging scandal.