Multiple major news outlets posted headlines or tweets this week which stated that “the charges” against former Trump campaign official Rick Gates had been dropped as part of his plea deal. Numerous individuals have interpreted this to mean that all charges against Gates have been dropped, and that he’s a free man. So what’s really going on here? We take a look in our Palmer Report fact check.
It was originally widely reported that Gates was going to plead guilty to fraud charges. Then came a report from the Los Angeles Times that Gates had misled investigators during his plea deal interview (link). As a result, Special Counsel Robert Mueller brought a new round of criminal charges against Gates, according to NBC News (link). He then agreed to plead guilty to a pair of new charges, including Conspiracy against the United States. Days later, according to the Washington Post (link), Mueller moved to drop all of the other charges against Gates, without dropping any of the charges that Gates had just pleaded guilty to. So where does this leave us?
The short answer is that Rick Gates is still headed to prison. Various legal experts have opined that he’s likely to serve a sentence of a few years. That sentence has not begun yet, and Gates is currently spending his remaining pre-prison time with his family. The combination of out-of-context headlines about charges being dropped against Gates, and the reports that he was headed out on vacation, left many with the incorrect impression that Mueller had set him free.
Mueller has been giving potential get out of jail free cards to those who have committed lesser crimes. For instance George Papadopoulos was only charged with lying to the FBI, and his plea deal calls for zero to six months in prison, depending on how cooperative and useful he ends up being once it’s all said and done. Michael Flynn was facing far more serious criminal charges at the time he agreed to plead guilty to lying to the FBI, but it’s still not known if he’ll eventually be charged with other crimes as part of is plea deal. He’ll ultimately have to accept whatever Mueller decides to do to him.
From a fact check standpoint, Rick Gates is definitely going to serve a good amount of prison time for the serious charges he pleaded guilty to. From an analysis standpoint, Robert Mueller seems to be sending the message to other Trump-Russia suspects that if they’ve merely interfered with the investigation, they might be able to walk away if they cooperate – and that while those who have committed serious crimes are not getting a free pass one way or the other, they can significantly reduce the amount of time they’ll have to spend in prison if they cut a plea deal.
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