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Rick Gates on the Mueller probe and why current 'polls are wrong'


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: There have been a number a tell-all books about what it is like to be in President Trump's orbit.

The latest comes from a top official on the 2016 campaign about his experience with the candidate and how he sees Mr. Trump as president.

He spoke with William Brangham.

William Brangham: Republican consultant Rick Gates spent a career in politics, but few outside the beltway knew of him before he joined the Trump campaign.

After pleading guilty to two federal charges, Gates became a key witness for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference.

Gates is out with a new book now. It's called "Wicked Game: An Insider's Story on How Trump Won, Mueller Failed, and America Lost."

Among the book's revelations, Donald Trump wanted his daughter Ivanka to be his running mate. But Gates' main argument is that he was a pawn used to get to his former boss Paul Manafort and ultimately President Trump, and that this probe contributed to the poisoning of our politics.

Rick Gates joins me now.

Thank you very much for being here.

Before we turn to your book specifically, I'd love to talk a little bit about this current election. And there are a lot of people, Republicans and Democrats, who listen to what the president is saying about the election, the way he's casting doubt on the voting process, the way he's alleging widespread fraud where fraud does not exist, where he's talking about not respecting the outcome of the election.

From your knowledge of the president in your time with him, does -- do you think that the president understands that many people see that kind of language as dangerous and deeply undemocratic?

Rick Gates: I don't think at all that he is looking at it from the perspective of rhetoric that's hurting Americans.

He wants a free and fair election process. And, along the way, as he's learned from 2016, there are instances where that was not fair, where you had, in his mind and what turned out to be most of America, you had rigged primary systems in both the Republican and the Democratic primary process.

And so I think he wants to make sure that the American people know that this process needs to be free and fair, and he's going to do that as strongly as he can.

William Brangham: I guess jockeying by the DNC between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is markedly different from what the president is talking about, where he's alleging that everyone who is voting by mail is basically wide open for fraud, and that, if he doesn't -- if he's not declared the winner on election night, that that is de facto evidence of a rigged process.

That seems a very different type of allegation that he's making.

Let's move on.

You write that the president initially wanted his daughter Ivanka to be his running mate as vice president, so much so that they actually -- the campaign actually polled this issue a couple of times.

What was the president's rationale there?

Rick Gates: It's what he believes in and started out with.

His rationale, it's family, it's trust, and it's loyalty. And it's really that simple. And it was not a very extended process. I don't think he was very serious about it.

William Brangham: Everyone, of course, is watching political polls right now. And there are some polls that are showing that the president is behind Vice President Joe Biden, including in some major swing states.

But you point out that, back in 2016, you guys became aware that the polls didn't really reflect that there were a number of Republican voters who wouldn't say to a pollster that they supported then candidate Donald Trump, but that they really did.

Do you think that that could be happening in current polls today?

Rick Gates: Absolutely.

And if I could share with the American public one thing, I think that, right now, the polls are wrong. Donald Trump is actually in a better place in several key states, including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida specifically, than he was in 2016.

And to answer your question, absolutely, I think that number that I have mentioned in my book about what we call the Trump factor may be even higher this election.

William Brangham: Let's turn to the Mueller investigation. As I mentioned, you were a cooperating witness with the Mueller probe.

You are very critical of the Mueller investigation more broadly. Can you give us a sense, what is your principal criticism there?

Rick Gates: You know, one of the foundational parts of the book that I go into is, having gone through parts of the justice system and seeing it from the inside, how just broken it is.

You know, a lot of it was based on the idea that they predetermined the conclusion before they ever had any facts or evidence.

William Brangham: Just to remind you, again, an enormous number of members of the Trump campaign had meetings or contacts with Russian officials, lied about those events, covered them up, solicited and was eager to receive dirt from the Russians.

I mean, even if you, as the campaign officials, maybe were not conspiring directly with the Russians, it certainly seemed like the Russians were trying to use you, and that that was something that the FBI had to investigate.

Rick Gates: It is no secret that Russia, China, North Korea, Iran have been interfering in U.S. elections for decades.

So, it just blew my mind that we're now focusing just on one election. We're not going back and looking at the whole history of how any adversary has been interfering in our elections.

William Brangham: Many of the members of the Trump campaign, people who were indicted and convicted, have received pardons from President Trump.

Have you spoken with President Trump or his administration about a possible pardon for yourself?

Rick Gates: No, I have not. I have not spoken to anybody inside the administration about any sort of pardon at this time.

William Brangham: And you haven't spoken with any close allies of the president about such a pardon?

Rick Gates: No, I have not.

William Brangham: All right, Rick Gates.

The book is called "Wicked Game."

Thank you very much for being here.

Rick Gates: William, thanks so much for your time. I appreciate it.

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