The federal judge overseeing the criminal trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and business partner Rick Gates said Thursday she is inclined to impose a gag order in the case and believes that the men pose a flight risk significant enough to require close electronic monitoring.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington stated her intentions at a 30-minute hearing to review bail terms for Manafort and Gates, who were in court. Each has pleaded not guilty to a 12-count indictment unsealed Monday that charges them with conspiracy to launder money, making false statements and other offenses in connection with their work advising a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine.
She said that the men will stay on house arrest through the weekend and that both may need to remain on GPS tracking throughout the case.
The men were arraigned Monday on the first criminal allegations disclosed by the office of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which is investigating possible Russian influence in U.S. political affairs, including the 2016 election of President Trump.
“This is a criminal trial, and it is not a public-relations campaign,” said Jackson, a 2011 appointee of President Barack Obama. Noting extraordinary public interest in the case, Jackson gave each side until Tuesday to argue why she should not issue an order barring both sides from releasing information or commenting on the case outside court, saying, “I expect counsel to make their statements in the courtroom and in pleadings, and not on the courthouse steps.”
A U.S. magistrate had put the men on electronic monitoring and confined them mostly to their homes, pending the Thursday appearance, after Manafort, 68, pledged to pay a $10 million penalty and Gates, 45, promised to pay a $5 million penalty if they failed to return to court.
Jackson also granted prosecutors’ unopposed request to suspend the usual speedy-trial requirements because of the complexity of the case, and set a tentative trial date for spring.
She set another hearing for 9:30 a.m. Monday to sort out terms for their continued release. Attorneys for Manafort and Gates said they would ask for the men to go free on their personal recognizance and remain on unsecured bond. Prosecutors insisted in court that any bail package be secured by assets.
Jackson deferred ruling until seeing each side’s requests, but said the tracking is important and should stay in place. “I think if they leave and don’t come back, we need to know where they went,” she said.
Prosecutors argued in a court filing Tuesday that both men “pose a risk of flight” based on a “history of deceptive and misleading conduct,” the evidence against them, and their wealth and foreign connections.
The government argued that Manafort has a greater incentive to flee because he faces spending most of the rest of his life incarcerated if convicted of charges that would carry a recommended sentence of about 12 to 15 years. Gates, if convicted, could face a recommended 10- to 12-year sentence.
Prosecutors also said that Manafort held three passports, and that he registered a phone and an email account under an alias in May and traveled with it to Ecuador, China and Mexico between May and June. On Thursday, his lawyers said that Manafort’s passports were all under his own name and that travel with multiple passports is “perfectly permissible,” such as for travel between countries with sour relations.
Mueller team prosecutors Andrew Weissmann, Greg D. Andres and Kyle R. Freeny also cited the difficulty in ascertaining each man’s wealth as a strike against allowing them to remain free.
The government said in loan applications and financial documents Manafort assessed his financial holdings as ranging from $136 million in May 2016 to $28 million and $63 million that August, in two separate financial applications, the government said.
Gates listed his and his wife’s net worth as $30 million in a February 2016 application for a line of credit, but just $2.6 million in a March 2016 residential loan application, prosecutors said.
Manafort’s attorneys called prosecutors’ characterization of the case against him “embellished” and filled with “loose talk” over what they said amounted to an investigation for criminal tax evasion.
Jackson said she had directed both sides to put their bail proposals in writing and from the bench admonished them because they had not done that. The government’s allegations about the defendants’ risk of flight came in what she called an unusual, “free-standing brief”, without stating what terms it wanted or would accept, and that the defendants replied without details of what they sought for a release.
In a nine-page filing Thursday morning, Manafort’s lawyers said their client does not pose a danger to the community and should go free on unsecured bond with the condition he not commit a crime.
“Mr. Manafort is ready to defend these allegations and preserve his livelihood and his assets,” attorneys Kevin M. Downing and Thomas E. Zehnle said in filings. The prospect that Manafort would “simply up and leave” his wife of nearly 40 years, two daughters and grandchildren to “live the rest of his life on the lam . . . is an imagined risk,” they said.
Manafort is “one of the most recognizable people on the planet today,” they added, asking “where such an individual could even hide?”
Gates presented a new legal team Thursday, replacing George Dry. It includes Walter Mack of Doar Rieck Kaley & Mack in New York City, Shanlon Wu of Wu, Grohovsky & Whipple in Washington, and Annemarie McAvoy, a former federal prosecutor and consultant specializing in financial crime investigations.
Wu said in a written motion that Gates would also seek his release.
Downing on Monday had objected to prosecutors using the “valuation of assets that fluctuate greatly in different countries” to argue for Manafort’s home confinement.
Downing also ridiculed prosecutors for bringing what he called a trumped up “criminal tax case” with their allegations Manafort was trying to conceal assets from the government through international foreign transactions and moving money into the United States, including through accounts in Cyprus.
“The funds deposited in the Cypress [sic] accounts were from legal sources,” Downing and Zehnle wrote. . , adding, “It goes without saying that in an international scheme to conceal assets, individuals generally move them offshore, not to the United States.”
The filing showed signs of being hastily proofread, consistently misspelling Cyprus, for example, and at one point misidentifying Mueller’s team as the “Office of Special Investigation.”
Correction: A previous version of this story said the judge would impose a gag order. The file has been updated to reflect the judge is considering whether to impose such an order.