|EVAN VUCCI / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
Seeming bit players in the Russia scandal drama have had a way of becoming more important than the campaign coffee boy roles in which the White House portrays them when they become snared in Robert Mueller's net. In that respect and because of his Kremlin contacts, George Papadopoulos has gone from being a nobody to the somebody who jump started the very FBI investigation that preceded the special prosecutor's, while Rick Gates has gone from being Paul Manafort's lackey to a key player on whom many scandal roads seem to converge. And both, of course, are cooperating government witnesses.
Gates, long in the shadow of Manafort -- Trump campaign manager, shill for foreign dictators and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian political party, money launderer, all-around grifter and not cooperating witness -- was hiding in plain sight.
Once Gates agreed to cooperate with Mueller, Manafort was effectively doomed, and his former right-hand man will be the star witness against him at trial.
But as the trickle of connections between key scandal players and entities has become a veritable flood, alt-right guru Steve Bannon and the Cambridge Analytica mafiosi being prime examples, Gates has emerged as someone who may be able to speak authoritatively to Mueller not just about Manafort, but the inner workings and possible ties to Russia's cyberespionage of the 2016 election of the Trump campaign, inaugural organizing committee, presidential administration, wealthy influence-peddling donors and Republican National Committee (RNC).
Quite an armful for a mere coffee boy, wouldn't you say?
"He saw everything," says a Republican consultant who worked with Gates during the campaign. The consultant tells Politico that Gates is one of the "top five" insiders whom Mueller could have tapped into as a cooperating witness, and his plea has triggered palpable alarm in a White House where Trump is down to a single, ill-equipped lawyer to spare his neck from Mueller's ever tightening noose.
These connections have been made most thoroughly -- and perhaps over made in some instances -- by freelance journalist Seth Abramson in casting his beady investigator's eye on the Russia scandal roadmap.
Abramson's connections and those noted by others:
Gates was in the email loop with Papadopoulos in his efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian officials.
As Trump's deputy campaign manager, Gates worked behind the scenes to run the campaign's outreach to the RNC.
Trump campaign aides used the RNC to facilitate Russia contacts and craft a convention platform friendly to Vladimir Putin.
After Manafort was fired as campaign manager, Gates was effectively running the campaign for several months.
Trump not only declined to fire Gates although he was as compromised as Manafort, he gave Gates a critical role as deputy manager.
Along with Manafort, Gates was in contact during the campaign with Konstantin Kilimnik, who has Russian intelligence ties.
Gates worked with cooperating witness Michael Flynn and was seen at Trump Tower in the days before the election.
Gates was given another critical role in running day-to-day operations of the inaugural committee, which had numerous contacts with Russians.
Mega-donor Tom Barrack, who is close to Trump, hired Gates as an adviser and they visited Trump in the White House.
Gates was in contact with other elite campaign contributors who expected to use their access to a President Trump as a marketing tool.
Among those contributors is Elliott Broidy, who became RNC deputy finance manager and is an agent for a Kremlin-connected bank.
Broidy, a defense contractor, is in on a scheme to sell nuclear reactors to Middle Eastern countries built by Russia.
Russia is prevented from doing that because it would need U.S. technology unavailable because of Obama era economic sanctions.
The scandal is shot through with numerous efforts involving Gates, other Trump associates and Russians to get Trump to lift sanctions.
The Kilimnik link, reported by The Washington Post on Wednesday, is the most pungent of Gate's possible connections because it draws the most direct line between the campaign and Russia's intelligence services.
Prosecutors made the allegation in a new court filing without naming Kilimnik, but there is no doubt that is the individual to whom they refer. Kilimnik was the longtime Russian manager of the Kiev office of the Manafort-Gates lobbying firm. In addition to the Gates contacts alluded to in the court filing, Manafort is known to have met with Kilimnik twice during the campaign, once in May 2016 and again in August 2016 about two weeks before he was forced out as Trump's campaign chairman because of bad publicity over his Russia ties.
During the August meeting, Manafort and Kilimnik discussed the ongoing campaign, including the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails which had been released by WikiLeaks in July and were widely suspected to be the work of Russia.
The new information concerning Gates came in a court filing related to the upcoming sentencing of London attorney Alex van der Zwaan, whose firm worked with Manafort when he served a political consultant in Ukraine. Van der Zwaan, the son-in-law of a prominent Russian-Ukrainian banker, pleaded guilty last month to lying about his contacts with Gates and Kilimnik.
Randall Eliason, a white-collar crime and constitutional law expert, writes in the WaPo that Trump, who has lost most of his lawyers, is in big trouble.
"What do you do if you want to gird for war but all of your potential generals are running from the battlefield?" Eliason asks. "That appears to be the situation right now with President Trump's legal team. And whether he realizes it or not, that is placing him in perhaps the greatest legal jeopardy of his presidency."
One and one does not necessarily add up to two in the labyrinthine world of the Russia scandal. It can add up to three, and Abramson and the media posse sometimes end up chasing their tails. Me, too.
But that world is nothing if not incestuous -- crooks flock together like birds of a feather, or something -- and Gates's connections are too key and too many to not take very seriously. Which Mueller most certainly does.
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