Judge in Russia Probe to Meet Privately With Gates Defense Team

WASHINGTON (CN) – Suggesting a plea deal on the horizon for Rick Gates, a federal judge will hold a closed-door meeting Wednesday with the defense team for President Donald Trump’s indicted former campaign aide.

Alongside Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, 45-year-old Gates is charged with counts of money laundering, conspiracy and failure to register as a foreign agents for lobbying work on behalf of the Ukrainian government.

After attorneys Shanlon Wu, Walter Mack and Annemarie McAvoy moved on Feb. 1 to withdraw as counsel for Gates, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson scheduled a Feb. 7 meeting on the matter in her chambers.

Wu, Mack and McAvoy filed their reasons for withdrawing under seal, and former prosecutor Laurie Levenson called it possible in an interview Monday that Gates wants to cooperate with investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

“It may be either Gates wants to make a deal or his lawyers said make a deal and Gates wont,” said Levinson, who is now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Levinson also noted, however, that there are other explanations why the attorneys might want to withdraw.

“If you have a client who you don’t think is cooperating and being honest with you, that’s certainly a reason people withdraw,” Levinson said. “It’s very frustrating.”

Conflicts of interest or nonpayment from clients can also prompt attorneys to withdraw.

Gates has reportedly hired attorney Tom Green with Sidley Austin, who did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Attorneys for co-defendant Manafort argued in a Feb. 2 brief meanwhile that the prosecution must be held to a federal rule of evidence that gives defendants notice of the crimes prosecutors want to introduce at trial.

When the trial had been slated for May, Jackson had ordered Mueller’s team to provide so-called Rule 404(b) notice by April 6. Now that the court is considering a trial start date in September at the request of Manafort and Gates, however, prosecutors said the date should be pushed back to avoid multiple evidence briefings.

In a Jan. 19 motion, Mueller’s team warned about the risks of premature evidence disclosure and asked for their notice deadline to be pushed until eight weeks prior to the start of the trial.

Attorneys for Manafort shot back in their opposition brief that the government should know by now what evidence it plans to proffer.

“In response to the defendant’s demands for discovery, the government has produced materials that show it has been conducting a law enforcement investigation into Mr. Manafort’s dealings since 2014,” the 4-page brief states (emphasis original). “Therefore, it is difficult to believe that the Special Counsel does not already know what it will proffer as Rule 404(b) evidence.”

Loyola professor Levenson noted in an interview that the attempt by Mueller’s team to restrict the evidentiary disclosures closer to the trial start date sends a message.

“They’re finding new things even as they go along,” Levinson said. “And that’s exactly why Manafort’s team wants to put a lid on it by holding them to a certain deadline.”

The Justice Department filed a motion of its own on Friday, taking aim at the lawsuit Manafort filed last month against Mueller and the Justice Department official who appointed him, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Manafort’s Jan. 3 lawsuit alleges that Mueller has exceeded the authority Rosenstein bestowed upon him to investigate links between the Trump campaign and Russia. Manafort asked the court to narrow Mueller’s authority and dismiss the indictment against him, but the Justice Department says Manafort’s lawsuit is intended to undermine Mueller’s criminal case.

“If Manafort believes the Special Counsel lacks authority to prosecute him, he is free to raise that objection in his criminal action by filing a motion to dismiss the indictment pursuant to Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure,” the 46-page brief says.

Signed by Justice Department attorneys Daniel Schwei and Anjali Motgi, the motion also rejects Manafort’s argument that Mueller exceeded his authority.

“The appointment of the special counsel was squarely within the acting attorney general’s authority and consistent with the department’s special counsel regulations,” the brief states. “And the special counsel is properly operating within the scope of his authority, including with respect to Manafort’s ongoing criminal prosecution.”

Manafort and Gates have both pleaded not guilty to the charges they face.

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