ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump's former deputy campaign manager is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller. In a courtroom in Washington today, lobbyist Richard Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lies. The plea is the latest advance in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson was at the courthouse and is now in the studio here to talk more about the case. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Just yesterday, prosecutors unveiled a bunch of new charges against Gates and his mentor Paul Manafort. Why is Gates pleading guilty today?
JOHNSON: Gates is pleading guilty because the pressure was on. Rick Gates is 45 years old. He has four young children and a lot of financial trouble. He didn't have the resources to fight this case for a long time. He stood in court today before the judge and said he was pleading guilty of his own free will. ABC News was first to report today Gates had sent a letter to his loved ones, saying he was tired of the circus-like atmosphere and just wanted to move on with his life.
Now, he's pleaded guilty to just two charges out of more than a dozen. Prosecutors in exchange agree to drop all the other counts, and some of those counts carry 20 or 30 years behind bars. Now Rick Gates faces about eight years in prison, maybe even less if he cooperates with the special counsel as he promised to do.
SHAPIRO: Looking at those charges that he has pleaded guilty to, they relate to lobbying and financial wrongdoing, not Russia, right?
JOHNSON: Yeah. The first charge he pleaded to was conspiracy against the United States. That mostly deals with millions of dollars he helped Paul Manafort, his mentor, move through offshore accounts, laundering some of it and then failure to pay income tax on those monies. And maybe even more tantalizing, Gates admitted to lying in a meeting with the special counsel and the FBI this month...
SHAPIRO: This month.
JOHNSON: ....On February 1. This means he was already under indictment - not good to lie again to the special counsel. The nature of the lie was about a meeting that Paul Manafort had in 2013 with an unnamed congressman we now know is California lawmaker Dana Rohrabacher and another top lobbyist we now know is Vin Weber. News reports from a way's back identified Rohrabacher. I talked with a spokesman for the congressman today. He said the meeting was no big deal. It was three old friends reminiscing. They talked politics, and Ukraine came up in passing.
SHAPIRO: This guilty plea by Rick Gates leaves his former boss Paul Manafort as the last man standing who has not pleaded guilty. What does Manafort have to say?
JOHNSON: Manafort didn't come out on camera, but he issued a written statement this afternoon. He said he's continuing to maintain his innocence. He had hoped Rick Gates would fight on alongside him, doesn't understand why Gates made this choice to plead guilty. But he, Paul Manafort, is going to be defending himself against these - what he called untrue, piled-up charges in these indictments. Remember; Paul Manafort is 68 years old. This is going to be the fight of his life. He's now facing cases in D.C. and Virginia. Some of those charges carry 20 or 30 years in prison if he's convicted.
SHAPIRO: So as we reach the end of this week, 19 people have been charged by the special counsel, including 13 Russians who conducted an information warfare campaign. There are the five guilty pleas. Where is Robert Mueller heading from here?
JOHNSON: Well, starting with Paul Manafort, who could face trial as early as later this year, there's an open question as to whether anyone else caught up in this lobbying campaign could be charged. And of course, Ari, the heart of Robert Mueller's investigation, whether any Americans colluded with or conspired with Russians to influence the election - that's still ongoing.
SHAPIRO: NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, thanks as always.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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