Questions Abound After Closed-Door Meeting With Team Gates

Rick Gates departs federal court in Washington on Dec. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (CN) – The federal judge overseeing the prosecution of former Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates met behind closed doors Wednesday to hear why three attorneys want off the case.

While the meeting was closed to the public, a document unsealed Wednesday cited “irreconcilable differences” for the fissure.

“As a basis for counsel’s motion to withdraw as counsel of record, undersigned counsel wish to inform the Court that irreconcilable differences have developed with the client which make our effective representation of the client impossible,” the 2-page exhibit says.

The attorneys added that attorney-client privilege prevented them from providing the court with more specifics.

The exhibit was filed under seal on Thursday, along with a 2-page motion from Shanlon Wu with Wu Grohovsky, Annemarie McAvoy with McAvoy Consulting and Walter Mack with Doar Rieck asking to withdraw from representing Gates.

The move prompted speculation that Gates could be making a deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether Russia colluded with the Trump campaign to manipulate the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

After a secret hearing Wednesday morning that lasted roughly 90 minutes, each of the attorneys was tight-lipped about what transpired.

The lawyers filed their explanation for withdrawing under seal, and they said a gag order by the court prevents them from talking to the media about the case.

Just prior to Wednesday’s hearing, the court unsealed a document that partially explains why they want the matter kept secret.

Citing “good cause and compelling reasons” to keep the exhibit under seal, the motion says the exhibit contains private information about Gates.

“The court has noted on more than one occasion that this case is subject to substantial publicity and media coverage,” the 2-page motion says. “The exhibit involves highly sensitive matters concerning the Defendant and public disclosure of the information would potentially be prejudicial to the defendant.”

Another version of the document unsealed Wednesday said the “highly sensitive matters” could also be “embarrassing.”

Though U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson had instructed Gates to make a redacted version of the exhibit available to the public, a docket entry after the hearing notes only that she has taken the motion to withdraw under advisement.

Jackson said she closed this morning’s hearing to the public and media to preserve attorney-client privilege.

Gates was indicted alongside former Trump campaign chair Manafort on Oct. 30 by Special Counsel Mueller. The two are facing charges of money laundering, conspiracy and failure to register as foreign agents for lobbying work on behalf of the Ukrainian government and pro-Russia politicians.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

If Jackson permits Gates’ attorneys to leave the case, it would mark the third transition of his defense team.

CNN reported on Jan. 23 that Gates had added Sidley Austin attorney Thomas Green, a prominent white-collar lawyer.

Green did not respond to an email seeking comment, and he has not yet formally appeared on the case docket.

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