White House press secretary Sarah Sanders attempted to put distance between President Trump and former campaign aide Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty to felony charges as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Sanders was asked during Monday’s White House press briefing whether guilty pleas from three former Trump campaign aides — Gates, Michael Flynn, and George Papadopoulos — speak to Trump’s judgment.
“I think those are issues that took place long before they were involved with the president,” Sanders told reporters during Monday’s White House press briefing.
She then said Gates’ actions that are currently under investigation occurred before he joined the Trump campaign.
Gates pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the U.S. and one count of making a false statement to the FBI on Friday.
As part of the guilty plea, Gates said he worked on “criminal schemes” with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, which involved hiding millions of dollars made lobbying for Ukrainian officials. The scheme allegedly spanned 11 years.
Gates lied to prosecutors on Mueller’s team and the FBI when he was negotiating a plea deal earlier this month and told the investigators “there were no discussions of Ukraine” during a March 2013 meeting.
A federal grand jury indicted Gates and Manafort, his business associate, on 12 counts last year. Last week, Mueller filed another 32-count indictment against Manafort and Gates.
The latest indictment included charges of tax fraud and bank fraud.
Gates is the third former Trump campaign official to enter into guilty pleas related to charges stemming from Mueller’s Russia probe.
Flynn, who went on to work as the president's national security adviser, pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI in December.
Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in October.