By TOM LoBIANCO
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former presidential adviser Rick Gates, on house arrest in the federal Russia probe, didn’t even have to leave his home this week to provoke the judge handling his case.
In a brief order Friday, U.S. District Judge Amy B. Jackson summoned Gates and his lawyers to court on Dec. 27 to explain why the accused shouldn’t be held in contempt for violating her gag order imposed on everyone connected with the case. Jackson wants to know why Gates appeared by video at a fundraiser for his legal defense fund.
Jackson told Gates to explain why “his reported personal participation in the creation of a fundraising video to be shown to journalists and disseminated on social media, in which, according to multiple press accounts, defendant makes reference to ‘the cause’ and the goal of ‘ensuring that our supporters from across the United States hear our message and stand with us,’ would not violate this Court’s order.”
It’s the second time Jackson has dealt with unexpected public pronouncements by the first individuals indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-ranging criminal investigation. Earlier, she was told that Gates’ co-defendant Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, had secretly co-authored a glowing commentary article that was published in an English-language newspaper in Ukraine.
The video in which Gates appeared was aired at an event hosted by lobbyist Jack Burkman this past Tuesday. Burkman is known most recently for promoting a conspiracy theory alleging that the death of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was part of a cover-up by Hillary Clinton. In the video, Gates said: “By being here tonight, you are giving us the tools that we need to fight. And for that I am extremely grateful.”
In the video, Gates seemed to be sensitive to the existence of the gag order, and mentioned it briefly.
“As you may be aware, there is a gag order on the case, so I am not able to talk specifically about the case. However, I can say that because of people like you we will have the resources to fight.”
The judge also said she wanted to understand the “nature of his relationship, if any, with Jack Burkman, who reportedly publicly characterized the prosecution as ‘very unfair'” at the gathering. Jackson also said she wanted to know whether Burkman’s comments were being made at Gates’ direction or that of his counsel.
Gates and Manafort are both under house arrest as they await trial in the case accusing them of money laundering, criminal conspiracy and other charges.
Over the past few weeks, Manafort and Gates have been pleading with the judge to let them out of their houses for the holidays — Manafort to the Hamptons and Gates to holiday events near his home.
Trial is tentatively set for next May.
At this point, the two are the only ones facing trial in Mueller’s probe of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. They were indicted in October following a lengthy investigation that uncovered extensive global banking transactions stemming from their work representing a Ukrainian political party supportive of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mueller’s probe has taken down others from the president’s campaign and administration, notably extracting guilty pleas and cooperation from former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Mueller’s team has also interviewed a raft of current and former White House officials.
Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday the White House is cooperating fully with Mueller’s probe.