Little was made publicly known at a status conference Wednesday about the circumstances of the recent move by Rick Gates’ attorneys to withdraw from his legal team.
The judge presiding over his case — in which Special Counsel Robert Mueller has brought charges of tax evasion, money laundering and failure to disclose foreign lobbying against the former Trump aide — kicked the media and the public out of the courtroom so she could discuss the ongoing issues privately with Gates and his attorneys.
The mystery comes after Gates’ attorneys filed a motion to withdraw, with the underlying reasons under seal, on Feb. 1. Some of those underlying documents have since been released to the public, with one claiming that “irreconcilable differences have developed with the client which make our effective representation of the client impossible.”
Gates is believed to have quietly added a new lawyer to his legal team, Tom Green, of the DC-firm Sidley Austin. Green was spotted outside of the courtroom Wednesday, but is not yet listed as an attorney of the record on the public docket, nor did he join Gates’ other attorneys during the public portion of Wednesday’s conference.
Even during the public portion of the hearing, much of the discussions happened at the judge’s bench — meaning out of the hearing range of the media and public.
The judge, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, did reveal publicly that Gates had filed under seal a motion pro se — meaning on his own, and not through an attorney — asking that she wait a week before considering his attorneys’ request to withdraw. One of his attorneys, Shanlon Wu, said that they had not seen that pleading. Jackson said she would be unsealing it shortly.
After spending more than an hour in a private conference with the judge, Gates and his team — including Green — emerged from the courtroom. They declined to comment, as there is a gag order in the case, but Wu confirmed that he was still Gates’ lawyer.
Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman and Gates’ business partner who is also charged in the case, was likewise present with his legal team. They, Mueller’s team and Jackson had their own private session to discuss an ongoing issue with his bail package.
Manafort and Gates were charged as part of Mueller’s Russia probe. Some of the charges stem from work they did on behalf of a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine, years before they joined the Trump campaign. Both men have both pleaded not guilty.
At the public portion of the hearing, Jackson stressed her desire to set a firm trial date and told the attorneys to expect her to schedule another status conference soon for that to be nailed down.
There was also some discussion of the status of discovery, with Mueller’s team – represented Wednesday by Andrew Weissmann, Greg Andres and Kyle Freeny — indicating that they were still turning over documents on a rolling basis.
Andres noted that there other investigations under Mueller’s probe besides Manafort and Gates’ case. Andres said that they were reviewing those files, making discovery an ongoing process.
Kevin Downing, Manafort’s attorney, said it was “late in the game” for them still to be receiving discovery, which included a document dump Tuesday.
The discussion at the bench appeared to be related to discovery issues. Downing later suggested he would be seeking an extension of the Feb. 23 deadline to file his motion to raise what he says are defects in the Manafort indictment. Jackson seemed skeptical of the request, prompting Downing to claim that the discussion at the bench involved issues that could come to play in his motion.
“I am not sure that’s entirely true,” Jackson said.
“I’m not either,” Downing conceded.