Four days after we first learned that it would happen, and one day after there were some apparent hiccups in the process, former Trump campaign vice chairman Rick Gates has pleaded guilty today for his role in the Trump-Russia scandal. This is important because Gates has flipped on Paul Manafort, who in turn will face extreme pressure to flip on Donald Trump. But it’s also crucial because of what Gates pleaded guilty to.
Most of us first heard the legal term “Conspiracy against the United States” when it was among the charges initially filed against Gates and Manafort when they were arrested late last year. So what does that mean? This is not how an attorney would define it, but in layman’s terms, you can think of it as the vague peacetime equivalent of treason charges. The media originally told us that Gates was going to plead guilty to fraud charges. But now he’s pleaded guilty to Conspiracy against the United States instead – and that changes a lot when it comes to the overall Trump-Russia scandal.
To be clear, this criminal charge consists of Gates and Manafort having conspired with Russia against the United States before joining the Trump campaign. But that doesn’t matter, because by definition, a conspiracy is all-inclusive. Gates is not known to have conspired with Russia on the Trump campaign’s behalf during the election, but Manafort is known to have done precisely that. So now we have one top Trump official who’s pleading guilty to having conspired with Russia against the United States, and another Trump official who’s probably going to have to plead guilty to conspiring with the Trump campaign and Russia against the United States.
This is how the criminal conspiracy between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia against the United States is firmly established: one legal step at a time. Last week’s indictments against the Russians were an important step in that direction. Rick Gates’ confession to conspiring with Russia against the United States is another huge step. It’s now fair to say that the Trump-Russia scandal is officially a conspiracy against the United States. If Manafort confesses that Trump knew what Manafort was doing during the campaign, Trump can and will be charged with that same crime.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report