TPM News

Rick Gates pleaded guilty in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and is now expected to cooperate. The latest development in the quickening Mueller probe is a blow to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Gates’ mentor and co-defendant in separate criminal cases in Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

Gates’ cooperation with Mueller could also spell trouble for Trump. Gates outlasted Manafort on Trump’s campaign, serving as its liaison to the Republican National Committee in the fall of 2016 after Manafort was ousted in August. After the election Gates continued to work with figures in Trump’s inner circle: he served on the Trump inaugural committee and as late as last summer, was spotted in the White House tagging along with Tom Barrack, Trump’s good friend, for whom Gates by that time was working.

On Friday, just after noon, Mueller filed a document signaling that he and Gates had reached a plea deal. Soon after, the judge overseeing Gates and Manafort’s case, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, scheduled a plea hearing for 2 p.m. ET at the federal courthouse in D.C. It cames after reports Friday morning that Gates had decided to plead guilty in a deal with Mueller.

The filing by Mueller outlined two counts that prosecutors were bringing against Gates in a “superseding information.” An information typically precedes a plea agreement. Those charges are significantly less than what was in the earlier indictments filed against Gates, suggesting that it is a precursor to Gates pleading guilty in an agreement with Mueller.

The first count is conspiracy against the United States. The second count is for making a false statement. Remarkably the alleged false statement was made by Gates to the Special Counsel’s Office and the FBI on Feb. 1, months after the original indictment was issued, according to the information. That suggests Gates lied in the course of plea negotiations. His lawyers moved to withdraw from the case the same day.

Gates’ apparent decision to cooperate with Mueller followed an unexpected and dramatic path, including a drawn-out effort to switch up his legal team and a new set of charges filed by Mueller that were revealed Thursday evening.

Gates and Manafort, longtime business partners, were first charged with financial crimes and failure to disclose foreign lobbying last October — charges to which they both originally pleaded not guilty.

Those and the more recent charges mainly stemmed from their lobbying work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine prior to working for Trump, as well as from more recent efforts to allegedly defraud banks and pump up loans once their Ukraine project dried up. Gates allegedly assisted Manafort in laundering $30 million, according to the indictments brought by Mueller

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NATIONAL HARBOR, MD — The only panel dedicated to immigration at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference quickly went off the rails Thursday, with audience members drowning out panelists’ presentation of data about the benefits of immigration with boos, laughter, and stories of “obvious illegal immigrants defecating in the woods, fornicating in the woods.”

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A victim of last week’s Florida high school shooting said that she had “never been so unimpressed by a person” as she was when President Donald Trump spoke to her in a phone call to her hospital room.

“He said he heard that I was a big fan of his,” Samantha Fuentes, who was shot in both legs during the Parkland massacre, told the New York Times in an interview published on Thursday. “And then he said, ‘I’m a big fan of yours too.'”

“I’m pretty sure he made that up,” she added.

Fuentes said that she did not feel reassured by Trump’s remarks: “He didn’t make me feel better in the slightest.”

Trump spent the weekend after the shooting at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he attended a disco-themed party — to wide criticism — though a White House aide told Bloomberg News that Trump planned to skip his usual round of golf “to respect the dead and the mourners.”

On Wednesday, Trump held a listening session with survivors of the shooting. During the event, he held a white notecard with a list of five discussion prompts, including “I hear you.”

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 21: President Donald Trump holds his speaking notes during a listening session about school safety with high school students and teachers in the State Dining Room at The White House on February 21, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Trump’s apparent awkwardness in situations where he was called on to offer condolences to and express solidarity with survivors and grieving families has previously landed him in hot water.

In October 2017, Myeshia Johnson, the widow of a fallen soldier, said that Trump’s call brought her to tears when he told her that her late husband “knew what he signed up for.”

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At the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday, President Donald Trump again called for the arming of teachers in order to prevent school shootings. He suggested that if a teacher had a gun in Parkland, Florida last week, “the teacher would have shot the hell out of” the gunman “before he knew what happened.”

Trump also doubled down on his claim that 10 to 20 percent of teachers are likely “gun adept” or have served in the military before becoming teachers and would likely be willing to carry a concealed weapon at school. He pointed to reports that the school resource officer at the high school in Florida stayed outside instead of entering the building when shots were fired as evidence that it would be better to arm teachers than hire security guards. He then claimed that teachers “love” their students more than a security guard does.

“These teachers love their students and the students love their teachers in many cases,” he said. “And I would rather have somebody that loves their students and wants to protect their students than somebody standing outside that doesn’t know anybody and doesn’t know the students, and frankly, for whatever reason, decided not to go in even though he heard lots of shots being fired inside.”

The President said there were not “enough tears in the world” to mourn the 17 people who were killed in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week and said his administration is interested in talking to all Americans about how to stop mass shootings.

“We have to do something that works,” he said.

Before telling the crowd of conservatives that he supports comprehensive background check reform, Trump reiterated his backing of the Second Amendment and claimed that there is “nobody” who respects the National Rifle Association as much as him. But alas, “we really do have to strengthen up, really strengthen up background check. We have to do that,” he said.

Trump notably did not mention that he also supports increasing the minimum age for rifle purchases nor his call to ban bump stocks. The NRA has been vocal about its opposition to increasing the rifle purchasing age to 21 and has only asked for a “review” of the bump stock device that allows semi-automatic weapons to function like automatic rifles.

Earlier in his speech, Trump called on supporters to vote in the midterm elections, claiming if Democrats win, they’ll “take away your Second Amendment.

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The Missouri House is launching an investigation into allegations that Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens used a naked picture to threaten blackmail against a woman with whom he carried out a 2015 affair.

The announcement of the probe came hours after a St. Louis grand jury on Thursday indicted Greitens, a Republican, on felony invasion of privacy charges,

A growing number of lawmakers from both parties are calling for Greitens to step down or be impeached. But the governor says he committed no crimes, and is calling the criminal investigation politically motivated. His lawyers are seeking to have the indictment thrown out.

“We will carefully examine the facts contained in the indictment and answer the question as to whether or not the governor can lead our state while a felony case moves forward,” House Speaker Todd Richardson (R) said in a statement provided to the Kansas City Star.

A local reporter spotted Greitens being taken into custody at St. Louis’ Carnahan Courthouse Thursday afternoon before he was released on bond. News of his indictment was splashed across across the front pages of Missouri’s major newspapers the next morning, along with his mugshot.

“With today’s disappointing and misguided political decision, my confidence in our prosecutorial system is shaken, but not broken,” Greitens said in a statement shared on Facebook. “I know this will be righted soon. The people of Missouri deserve better than a reckless liberal prosecutor who uses her office to score political points.”

Greitens said he made a mistake in having an affair with his former hairdresser, but “did not commit a crime.”

He was backed up by the Missouri GOP, who released a statement tying St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, to George Soros, and calling the investigation a “political hit job.”

Susan Ryan, a spokeswoman for Gardner, fired back at Greitens. “Despite the Governor’s personal attacks, the Circuit Attorney believes the courtroom is the appropriate place to argue the facts, not the media,” Ryan said in a statement.

At the center of the charges against the governor is a nude photo that Greitens took of the woman during a visit to his St. Louis home.

Greitens’ attorney, Edward Dowd, has filed a motion to dismiss the charges, claiming that the woman was aware that Greitens was taking the photo, and that it was part of a consensual relationship.

“No appellate case law exists approving criminal convictions where individuals involved were jointly participating in sexual activity,” Dowd wrote in the motion, which was obtained by the Associated Press. “Nor has case law ever affirmed a conviction where the ‘victim’ was in the home of the other person to engage in private sexual activity with that other person.”

But in a secret recording made by the woman’s husband shortly after the March 2015 incident occurred, she said Greitens blindfolded her, bound her to a piece of exercise equipment and undressed her before taking the photograph.

“I saw a flash through the blindfold and he said, ‘You’re never going to mention my name,'” she said.

Greitens has denied threatening the woman with blackmail but has not clearly denied taking the picture.

Top Democratic lawmakers and a handful of Republicans in the Missouri legislature called publicly for the governor to resign or be impeached.

Republican State Sen. Caleb Rowden said on Twitter that he was “disgusted to learn” that the grand jury found sufficient evidence to indict Greitens and that his immediate resignation was essential for the “sake of our state.”

Republican Rep. Nate Walker, who called for Greitens to step down after the allegations against him first surfaced in January, told the Star: “My understanding was he was led off in handcuffs and that’s not a good sign for our executive of the state of Missouri. He should resign.”

On Thursday, Greitens canceled a planned appearance at this weekend’s Republican Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., and stepped down from the group’s executive committee.

Greitens is due in court March 16.

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President Donald Trump on Friday reminded the crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference to get “off their ass” and vote in the midterms so that Democrats don’t “take away your Second Amendment.”

“Don’t be complacent,” he said. “If they get in, they will repeal your tax cuts, they will put judges in that you wouldn’t believe. They’ll take away your Second Amendment, which we will never allow to happen. They’ll take away your Second Amendment. Remember that. They will take away those massive tax cuts, and they will take away your Second Amendment.”

He then asked the crowd whether they’d rather have their “massive” tax cuts or their Second Amendment rights. The crowd’s reaction was clearly in favor of guns.

“Second Amendment, tax cuts? Second Amendment? I’m going to leave it at the Second Amendment,” he said. “I don’t want to get into that battle.”

The comments about gun rights come as Trump has indicated his support for at least three proposals that would tighten gun laws, in the wake of the most recent school shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead.

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During his second speech as president at the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday, President Donald Trump made a joke about his bald spot, saying he tries “like hell to hide” it.

“What a nice picture that is,” he said, referencing a video feed of himself speaking.
“Look at that. I would love to watch that guy speak,” he said, as he turned around and pretended to fix the back of his hair.

“Oh, boy. Oh, I try like hell to hide that bald spot, folks. I work hard at it. Doesn’t look bad. Hey, we’re hanging in. We’re hanging in. We’re hanging in there, right? Together we’re hanging in.”

The joke comes after a video of the wind blowing Trump’s bald spot out into the open went viral weeks ago.

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CNN host Alisyn Camerota confronted National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch on Friday over her comments at CPAC claiming that many in the media “love” mass shootings.

“Dana, it’s just malicious, actually, that you would say that,” Camerota said. “I don’t know anybody in the media who likes mass shootings, you’re wrong on every single level. … How dare you?”

But Loesch defended her comments, saying the media loves the “ratings aspect of it.”

“It’s true because it’s wall-to-wall coverage. They put the murderer’s face up on loop, on televisions all across America, even more than they discuss the victims or survivors. That individual’s name has been mentioned and is still mentioned on your network,” Loesch said.

Loesch claimed that CNN has been equally “malicious” because it has allowed “accusations against me and millions of law abiding Americans to be indicted as child murders” to stand without correction.

“That NRA members are somehow complicit in this, you’ve allowed that to stand uncorrected on your network,” she said.

Camerota then suggested that the NRA actually “does bare some responsibility” for coming up with solutions to gun violence and said the group needs to “come to the table.”

“No, we absolutely do not. We’re parents too. We want to be able to make sure our kids are also safe,” Loesch said.

“Of course you do!” Camerota said. “You have a stake in this and you have to come up with solutions.”

Loesch then went on to repeat the NRA’s line blaming the FBI for failing to act on a tip about the alleged shooter and calling on politicians to force states to submit criminal records to the National Crime Information Center so that background checks work better. She also said the NRA is opposed to a Trump-supported proposal to increase the age for purchasing a rifle to 21 because when she was 20, she felt that she needed a rifle to protect herself.

The NRA has been heavily criticized in recent days from those in who support tightening gun laws after the latest mass shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead.

Watch a clip of the interview below:

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Rick Gates is expected to come to a plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, two sources told the New York Times. Gates could enter a guilty plea as soon as Friday, the Times reported.

ABC News also reported Friday that Gates was poised to reach a deal with Mueller.

Gates, a former Trump campaign advisor, was hit with a second indictment from Mueller Thursday, after an initial round of charges were filed in October. He and his longtime business partner, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, have been charged with an assortment of financial crimes, including bank fraud, as well as with failure to disclose foreign lobbying related to work they did for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. Both men pleaded not guilty when the charges were brought in October.

For weeks it had been rumored that Gates was in plea negotiations with Mueller, particularly after CNN reported he had quietly hired a new attorney, Tom Green, to help hammer out the deal. However, Gates’ effort to formally switch up his legal team has dragged on for nearly a month, after a motion from his original team of lawyers to withdraw from representing him prompted a mysterious back-and-forth in sealed court filings and in private hearings.  Only Thursday did a judge approve of the original attorneys’ move to withdraw, after Green formally entered the case on its public docket and filed for Gates a motion saying he did not oppose them withdrawing. Adding to the confusion was that the Daily Beast reported just before the filings that Gates had fired Green.

According to ABC News, Gates for weeks has been indecisive as to whether he was willing to plead guilty, and even this week it was not clear whether he would come to an agreement with Mueller.

The network obtained a letter Gates wrote to family and close friends explaining his decision, in which he said “despite my initial desire to vigorously defend myself, I have had a change of heart.”

“The reality of how long this legal process will likely take, the cost, and the circus-like atmosphere of an anticipated trial are too much. I will better serve my family moving forward by exiting this process,” Gates’ letter continued, according to ABC News. Gates is the father of young children.

“The consequence is the public humiliation, which at this moment seems like a small price to pay for what our children would have to endure otherwise,” Gates’ letter said, according to ABC News.

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