Robert Mueller III Robert Mueller III
Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

When former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Rick Gates entered not-guilty pleas before a federal magistrate judge on Monday, Manafort was accompanied by his latest lawyer, recently departed Miller & Chevalier partner Kevin Downing.

Gates, on the other hand, appeared to be represented only by a public defender, despite prior news accounts identifying his lawyer as Vinson & Elkins partner Michael Dry, a former federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Downing himself is relatively new to the defense lineup facing down special counsel Robert Mueller III. He started representing Manafort in August, picking up from Manafort’s prior legal team from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, led by partner Reginald Brown, which had represented Manafort in his dealings with Congress.

Downing left Miller & Chevalier in order to take over the representation from Wilmer. At the time, Miller & Chevalier told ALM that client conflicts prevented the firm from representing Manafort. But Downing’s move may have also made it easier for him to accept reduced fees for the work.

Neither Downing or Dry responded to requests for comments for this report.

The indictment offered compelling reasons why lawyers representing Manafort and Gates must be concerned about keeping costs low, since their clients face potential limits on their ability to pay legal fees.

For one, Mueller included a forfeiture allegation against the two men, asking the court if they are convicted of money laundering to collect the proceeds of all the assets involved in that allegation.

“I don’t see how Manafort can raise any money to pay his lawyers, unless he has money hidden somewhere else,” said Cynthia Kouril, who served as a prosecutor and special assistant under three U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York.

The indictment reads as “a really elegant trap,” said Kouril, who helped investigate public corruption and pursued claims of defrauding the government while she was a prosecutor. As a rule, she said, prosecutors “want to make sure each co-conspirator feels isolated and alone, and they have no one to turn to.”

Targeting Manafort and Gates’ financial assets with forfeiture allegations accomplishes that goal. “Who becomes the only person who has anything to offer them?” she said. ”Mueller.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Kevin Downing left Miller & Chevalier after he began representing Paul Manafort. It was been updated to reflect that Downing left the firm before taking on Manafort as a client. 

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