President Trump can’t keep the ghost of Russia out of the White House—the man who helped Paul Manafort work with the Russians is still on the scene.
Manafort may be under investigation for alleged Russia ties, and thus persona non grata at the Trump White House. However, his top deputy Gates—who also worked on behalf of Russian interests—has managed to wedge himself back into Trump-world. having landed a sweet new gig with one of President Donald Trump’s best and wealthiest friends.
After leaving the Trump-boosting nonprofit America First Policies in March—as former FBI Director James Comey officially announced an investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign team and Russian officials—Gates is now working directly for Tom Barrack, according to eight sources in and around the Trump White House.
Barrack, a millionaire and former Trump fundraiser who went on to lead the presidential inaugural committee, is a longtime friend of the president who still sends Trump friendly emails to remind him that, “YOU ROCK!” The Trump ally was also instrumental in bringing Manafort into Trump’s political orbit during the campaign.
Since the inauguration, Barrack has remained in close contact with the president as one of his top outside advisers, and has visited the president multiple times. Barrack’s name has been floated for senior White House positions, including chief of staff.
And when Barrack stops by to meet Trump in the West Wing, he has brought Gates with him, according to multiple sources familiar with the meeting. Late last week, Barrack was again at the White House, with Gates in tow, two White House officials confirmed.
Gates, who worked for the same controversial pro-Russian clients as Manafort, could not be reached for comment, and the White House comms shop did not respond to a request for comment on this story. Officials spoke on the condition of anonymity so as to speak freely.
White House staff noted that his presence was conspicuous since the president doesn’t even like him.
“Rick [just] wandered around,” a Republican source familiar with the most recent White House visit told The Daily Beast. “My understanding is that [President Trump] had no idea he was in the building otherwise he wouldn’t be too happy.”
It’s not a secret that Gates, who has been moved around from position to position from 2016 onward, is not liked by the president, who considers his former aide a hanger-on, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of Trump’s sour feelings toward Gates.
“Trump still hates him,” another GOP source familiar with the relationship told The Daily Beast, describing Gates as “Manafort’s rabbi.”
According to two former senior Trump campaign officials, Trump’s dislike for Gates began as a case of mistaken identity. For weeks after Gates’ hiring, when aides would mention “Rick,” then-candidate Trump would always assume that they meant his national political director Rick Wiley, not Gates. Wiley was fired just over a month after joining the Trump team.
It wasn’t until weeks after Gates’ hiring that Trump, according to one former senior campaign official, saw Gates and asked, “Who the hell is that?”
When Trump was informed who Gates’ was, he remained unimpressed. One former Trump campaign official simply referred to Gates as a “whipping boy” for Trump.
Nowadays, Gates can also be spotted milling about at Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., just a few blocks away from the White House.
When Gates left America First Policies, former Trump campaign officials told The Daily Beast that his proximity to Manafort was partially to blame—in addition to the fact that the group had inauspicious beginnings with donors concerned about a lack of transparency. Katrina Pierson, spokesperson for the upstart organization, told The Daily Beast at the time that Gates merely wanted to move on after assisting in the early process.
“Rick volunteered to help set up the organization and build out the administrative tasks,” Pierson said. “Now that everything is up and running, he has decided to move on to his next project. We are appreciative of his work.”
But Gates’ close work with Manafort over the years makes him an albatross around the administration’s neck, struggling to shift focus from an ongoing investigation into 2016 campaign activities.
But he’s not the only one. President Trump can’t seem to shake his habit of top advisers and senior staffers carrying Russia-related baggage. His son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner definitely isn’t going anywhere, no matter how many secret Kremlin backchannels he wants to initiate. Trump still wants ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn—who left the administration specifically because of a Russia controversy—back in his administration. After the election, Manafort himself was still advising Trump and his transition team on cabinet picks.
In March, White House press secretary Sean Spicer took great efforts to downplay Manafort’s role in the presidential campaign, despite being hired as campaign chairman.
At one point he said that Manafort had “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”
This, of course, was not the case. And throughout Manafort’s time with the presidential campaign he essentially worked in tandem with Gates.
Asked whether Manafort was aware of what role Gates was currently playing, his spokesman emailed The Daily Beast, “Why don’t you ask him.”
But the two have longstanding ties.
Gates initially joined Manafort’s lobbying firm Davis Manafort in 2006. The two men had Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin, as a client but the business relationship with Deripaska went south. As detailed in a 2016 story from The Washington Post, Deripaska accused Gates and Manafort of taking almost $19 million intended for investments, failing to account for the cash and then not clarifying what the money was used for.
Attorneys for Deripaska would subsequently hire a private investigator to track them down, according to the report, and Manafort’s attorney did not respond to the Post about the status of the dispute.
In 2014, Manafort and Gates were working in Washington, D.C., to promote policies favored by Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych.
When Manafort joined the Trump campaign in the spring of 2016, he brought Gates along with him. They were heavily evolved in preparation for and work on the Republican National Convention, ensuring that delegates backed Trump and formally made him the nominee.
At the time of the convention, two senior Trump staffers told The Daily Beast that the box in the Quicken Loans Arena where Gates and Manafort strategized and watched the action on the floor was nicknamed “The Eagle’s Nest”—the same name of a onetime Nazi Party getaway that was presented to Adolf Hitler for his birthday.
Gates even took the fall for a highly publicized incident of plagiarism in Melania Trump’s convention speech.
By the August after the convention, Manafort quit the campaign amid scrutiny of his financial ties and previous work with Ukraine but Gates remained in Trump’s orbit, despite his connection to damaging reports about Manafort.
Then-Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller said that Gates would be functioning as liaison to the RNC. Once Trump won the election in November, Yahoo News reported that he was working alongside Barrack to plan the inauguration.
Barrack did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
In January 2017, Gates took yet another Trump-related gig and joined America First Policies in alongside Pierson and Brad Parscale, who was responsible for digital and data projects for the campaign.
His tenure there lasted less than three months.
It wasn’t clear at the time whether President Trump was even aware of Gates’ involvement in the nonprofit, or with Gates’ current work as a Barrack associate. But during the campaign, one source familiar with the conversations told The Daily Beast that “Trump had ordered [David] Bossie to fire Gates about six times.”
Now, when he tags along with Barrack to the White House, according to multiple sources, Gates is left either “wait[ing] in the lobby” or outside offices, or chatting with available staffers.
—with additional reporting by Lachlan Markay