Trump aide's 'very favorable' plea deal ramps up pressure on Manafort, experts say

It appears the Trump aide could get probation, no jail time, for cooperating.

“A defendant who has provided substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense may be sentenced to a term of supervised release that is less than any minimum required by statute or the guidelines,” the statute says.

The plea agreement goes further, saying that if Gates fully cooperates, he will “then be free to argue for any sentence below the advisory sentencing guideline range.” And prosecutors added in the deal that they “may not oppose defendant’s application” if his help proves valuable.

“He’s a young man," Bennett said. "He has a family. There is a big difference between a couple years in jail and 10 or 15 or 20. And there is the possibility that the government, if he is fully cooperative, could come in and go along with a probation.”

However, although the deal looks on its face to be largely positive for Gates, one source familiar with the case urged caution.

“While I agree the possibility of probation is very good, there are a number of red flags here,” the source told ABC News.

Cooperation, according to the source, is going to be very difficult for Gates. “They’ve already shown him he has no margin for error,” the source said. “The government holds all the cards, and the other problem will be if [the government] thinks he has more to give than he does.”

If Gates is found to be uncooperative, the government could snap back charges, and Gates - as part of the plea agreement — will have no opportunity to appeal.

“He’s in a very difficult position,” Bennett said.

Manafort continues to maintain his innocence. But the new filings in the Gates case suggest prosecutors have placed the lion’s share of blame for the criminal conduct on Manafort. Repeatedly, the document refers to conduct by Gates coming “at Manafort’s instruction,” and describes him as “helping Manafort” transfer his funds in order to evade U.S. taxes.

“Gates, with Manafort’s knowledge and agreement, repeatedly misled Manafort’s accountants,” the court filing says at one point. At another, it says that “Gates, acting at Manafort’s instructions, did not report the accounts’ existence to Manafort’s tax accountants.”

ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams said on "This Week" that Manafort may himself be just a step on the special counsel's path to other targets.

“I think for the government to want to make a deal with Gates, there has to be something more here,” Abrams said. “You have to view all of these as building blocks … all of these plea deals as building blocks. The reason the government is making these deals. The reason they are eliminating an enormous amount of counts against these various people is because they believe they have something to offer them. Something beyond what we already know.”

The first step that the special counsel’s office indicated it would take to reward Gates for his cooperation is dismissal of a hefty indictment filed in Virginia last week against him, court records show. The charges could be dismissed as early as Monday.