A longtime business and lobbying partner of Paul Manafort, the former Donald Trump campaign manager who was ousted last summer over his ties to a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, has resurfaced as a key figure in planning the Trump inauguration, according to four Republican sources familiar with matter.
The business partner, Rick Gates, was not mentioned in the Trump transition team’s Nov. 15 public announcement naming the members of the inaugural committee. But behind the scenes Gates is serving as the chief deputy to Thomas Barrack, the private equity investor and close friend of Trump who is inaugural chairman, the sources said. One described him as in effect the “shadow” chair of the event, involved in everything from raising the $50 million to $75 million the Inaugural committee is seeking to the selection of entertainers.
Another source, a top Republican fundraiser, said he recently met with Gates about planning for inaugural events and it was clear he was playing a critical role in overseeing the operation. “Gates is Barrack’s guy” in helping to run the inaugural, said the source.
Gates’ prominent, if so far unpublicized, role has caused grumbling among some Trump allies in large part because of his close ties to Manafort, the controversial former campaign chief whose dealings with pro-Russian figures in Ukraine led to his departure from the campaign last August.
Manafort’s resignation came after disclosures that Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau was investigating entries in a ledger book supposedly showing $12.7 million in “off the books” payments to Manafort between 2007 and 2012 from the Party of Regions headed by Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych is the former Ukrainian president, aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who fled the country in 2014 and now lives in Moscow. Manafort has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the payments.
Gates was Manafort’s deputy on the Party of Regions account while their firm, Davis Manafort International, advised Yunukovych’s election campaigns. “He was the complete business guy” who managed the account, hiring pollsters and other consultants, said Tad Devine, Bernie Sanders’ chief strategist during the 2016 primary campaign, who had been hired by Manafort’s firm to assist with the Party of Regions account but who says he quit in 2011 after Yanukovych’s government prosecuted and imprisoned his chief political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko.
As first reported by Yahoo News, Gates also was a co-investor with Manafort in a $26.2 million business deal with Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire Russian aluminum baron who had been barred by the FBI from entering the United States due to alleged ties to Russian organized crime. Deripaska later initiated legal action against both men in the Cayman Islands, alleging in court papers they had “simply disappeared” when his lawyers sought to liquidate their joint investment in 2014 and sought to question them about what happened to his funds.
“Gates was neck deep in all the pro-Putin activity and the dealings with oligarchs so shameful they’re not allowed into the United States,” said John Weaver, a Republican political consultant with clashed with Manafort and Gates when he was an adviser to John McCain during his 2008 run for the presidency. “I guess [Gates] is immune from draining the swamp. This is so typical of the hypocrisy coming out of Trump Tower.”
Gates did not respond to email and phone requests for comment. But sources said that he quietly weathered the storm of Manafort’s resignation and continued to do major work on the Trump campaign, serving a key role as a liaison to the Republican National Committee.
Manafort left the Trump campaign under a cloud as the Associated Press and others, including Yahoo News, reported that he and Gates were the go-betweens in hiring two high-powered Washington firms to secretly lobby for Yanukovych’s party, under the cover of representing a Belgian nonprofit group. According to a source close to the Ukrainian government, those allegations prompted an inquiry by the FBI into possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The status of that investigation is unclear. (Manafort recently told NBC News he was unaware of any FBI investigation.) Bloomberg News reported this week that Manafort has recently quietly resurfaced in Trump’s camp and has been in regular contact with Vice President-elect Mike Pence and other members of the transition team, as well as inaugural chair Barrack, with whom he has a longtime relationship.
The disclosure of Gates’ behind-the-scenes role comes as the inaugural committee this week is planning to send out offers on “package” deals for tickets to inaugural events. According to a source who has been briefed on the plans, the deals include separate packages for contributors at levels of $100,000, $250,000, $500,000 and $1 million, with progressively more access to balls, events and photo opportunities with Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
The public members of the inaugural committee include such well-known GOP donors and fundraisers as Roy Bailey, a Texas insurance mogul, and Wall Street investor Lew Eisenberg, both of whom are serving as finance co-chairs, as well as well as casino magnates Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn, Oklahoma oil baron Harold Hamm and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson. Barrack, the chair of the event, told the New York Times last week that the inauguration will allow corporations and wealthy donors to contribute to the inauguration, but would ban gifts from registered lobbyists. One GOP fundraiser said that Trump’s election had spurred interest from corporations that had been wary of contributing during the campaign because Hillary Clinton was expected to win. “Now, there’s no risk,” said the fundraiser, who like most others in this story asked not to be identified by name. “The guy won.”