Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort will face trial no sooner than September, the judge hearing his case indicated after an hour-long hearing Tuesday in which prosecutors and defense attorneys sparred over his continuing house arrest and a separate lawsuit challenging the appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
Prosecutors told the court Friday that they intended to ask for a May 14 trial date for Manafort, 68, and his former business partner, Rick Gates, 45, whose Oct. 30 indictments on fraud, conspiracy and money laundering counts were the first disclosed in Mueller’s probe of Russian influence in U.S. political affairs.
Both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges, which arose out of Manafort’s secret lobbying for a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine.
Attorneys for the defendants said they have been swamped by the government’s handoff of more than 590,000 pieces of evidence, plus an additional 46,000 records turned over Tuesday.
“They can’t possibly be ready for trial if they don’t have what you have,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington reminded prosecutors. “I don’t have a problem with a trial in September or October,” she added. “I don’t want [to set a date] that we have to continue.”
Prosecutor Kyle Freeny said that the handoff is mostly done but that investigators are still scouring the products of at least 19 search warrants, including 87 electronic devices and thousands of domestic and foreign business records. She also said the government continues to mine “pockets of discoverable material in less-obvious places.”
Jackson called the hearing to discuss the status of the criminal case, which has become bogged down by the lawsuit. She noted what she called “a fairly unique situation,” saying court rules “don’t contemplate the potential that people would sue civilly to forestall a criminal prosecution.
Manafort attorneys Kevin M. Downing and Thomas E. Zehnle on Jan. 3 filed a 17-page lawsuit asking to void Mueller’s appointment and dismiss the case against Manafort as government overreach in using the special counsel legislation.
Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said in court Tuesday that the government by Feb. 2 will ask a different federal judge in Washington overseeing the lawsuit to toss it, arguing that, among other reasons, the criminal case is the proper venue to seek dismissal of the indictment.
Downing briefly appeared to forget Tuesday that his lawsuit included the request to dismiss the criminal case, before deferring to Jackson and saying, “I don’t have it in front me.”
Jackson ordered both sides to tell her by Friday if they want to have her decide both cases, and she told the defendants to file by Feb. 23 any motions seeking to dismiss charges or the indictment.
Gates was released on a nearly $5 million bond Tuesday afternoon after agreeing to forfeit three properties and financial and other assets if he fails to appear in court. Under a bail deal, Gates also agreed to abide by a nighttime curfew, electronic monitoring, and a ban on international travel as well as travel outside the Richmond area for anything but court appearances without permission.
Jackson expressed impatience that Manafort has yet to finalize a similar $10 million secured bond deal. In one of several sharp exchanges with Downing, the judge asked, “As for Mr. Manafort’s bond, what are we waiting for?,” adding that the defendant “held the keys” to his freedom.
Downing disagreed, saying: “You actually set another $7 million security. You set a $17 million bond; we didn’t agree to that.”
“You had a month to point that out to me. . . . I get bond motions all the time . . . [and] I’m happy to hear them,” the judge replied.
Late Tuesday, Manafort asked to file a sealed motion urging the judge to revisit his bond deal and to provide "an analysis of sensitive financial information" focusing on his net asset statements and those of family members who pledged to secure his bond, "including the names of financial institutions where deposits are located and details about the types and amounts of assets and liabilities."
On Manafort’s request for a temporary health-related modification of his detention that she did not detail, Jackson in court said tartly: “While he is subject to home confinement, he is not confined to his couch. He has plenty of opportunities to exercise.”
Downing said he would respond in a court filing.
Finally, Jackson again rebuked but declined to punish one of the defendants, this time Gates, for appearing to violate a court’s gag order on making public statements about the criminal case that could bias potential jurors.
The judge cited Gates’s video greeting thanking supporters and lobbyist Jack Burkman for hosting a Dec. 19 fundraiser for Gates’s legal defense at an Arlington, Va., hotel. The judge noted that members of the media were invited and reported that Burkman attacked what he said was Mueller’s “unfair prosecution” after Gates thanked him for assuring that supporters “hear our message and stand with us.”
Jackson said that if surrogates attack the prosecution at a fundraiser to which the press is invited, “I suggest that that’s a pretty big red flag.”
She previously issued a similar rebuke but did not sanction Manafort for helping write an opinion article in December for a newspaper in Ukraine defending his work there.