Any hopes by President Trump that the special counsel’s Russia investigation will be wrapped up by the first half of the year were put into question Tuesday, with comments by a federal judge indicating the trial for his former campaign chair and another former aide might not begin until September or October, in the run up to the midterm elections.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson declined to set a trial date for Paul Manafort and Rick Gates at a status conference Tuesday morning.
Instead, noting the massive amount of discovery the defense was having to work through, she suggested that the May date proposed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team last week was too soon. She hinted that a date in September or October might end up being more appropriate.
Jackson said that a trial date would be nailed down after the first round of motions — in which the defense will have the chance to argue any defects in the prosecution or the indictment — are dealt with. Those motions and responses are to be filed in in February and March, she said, with a hearing on them set for April 17.
She scheduled another status conference before then, for Feb. 14, for other housekeeping issues in the case to be dealt with.
Manafort and Gates have been charged with money laundering, tax evasion and failure to disclose foreign lobbying. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Gates Chastised for Fundraising Video
Jackson also addressed the concerns she had raised last month over a fundraiser held for Gates’ legal defense fund, at which he appeared via a video statement. She had asked his attorneys to explain why that video message was not in violation of a gag order in the case.
The judge said that the legal defense fund was permissible and Gates was allowed to solicit donations and thank those who contributed to it. The problem, Jackson said, was that press was invited to the Dec. 19, fundraiser and that Jack Burkman — the GOP lobbyist who organized the event and whom Gates thanked in his video message — went on to bash the prosecution.
“It is hard to swallow,” she said, that Burkman was not acting as Gates’ surrogate, given that they had coordinated the video message for the event.
If one of Gates’ surrogates is publicly attacking the prosecution, particularly in front of the press, “you should not be cheering them on,” she said.
Gates’ attorney Shanlon Wu noted that they were not involved in putting together the guest list for the event.
Manafort’s Bail Hang-Up
It appeared Gates was close to be released from home confinement, with Jackson asking him to come back to her courtroom Tuesday afternoon to sign a last round of the paperwork before his release.
Manafort’s release, which the judge seemed to green light in a December 15 order, has been stalled by some confusion over what Jackson OKed last month. Manafort’s attorney suggested that her order actually added another $7 million to his bail requirements, for a total of $17 million. Jackson did not agree with this interpretation and pointed out that he has had a month to point out that error, if it did exist, in a motion.
Additionally, Jackson asked that a note from Manafort’s doctor that had been passed along to her be filed as a public notion for her to consider it.
The Civil Lawsuit Against Mueller
Andrew Weissmann, a lawyer for the Mueller team, brought up the civil lawsuit Manafort filed against the special counsel earlier this month. The complaint is in front of another D.C. district court judge. Weissmann indicated that Mueller planned to asked for the civil lawsuit to be dismissed. He questioned whether the venue was appropriate, given that the issues Manafort was raising could have been raised in the criminal case in front of Judge Amy Berman Jackson.
The judge said she was not going to opine on that question since the civil lawsuit wasn’t in front of her, but wondered whether it would be appropriate for that case to be transferred in front of her as well — something that wasn’t required, she said, but could be allowed.
“This is a rather unique situation,” she said, asking Manafort’s attorney if he had a position on transferring the case.
Downing went on to claim that the civil lawsuit was not in fact asking for the indictment against Manafort to be dropped, as had been suggested. Jackson questioned this claim, and even pointed to language in the second count of the civil lawsuit, which asked for the actions Mueller had taken against Manafort to be set aside.
“I’m not entirely sure how you can say what you just said,” Jackson told Downing. She asked the attorney to file by Friday his opinion on whether the civil case should be transferred to her court.