After prosecutors for the special counsel’s office accused Paul Manafort of violating a court order by writing an op-ed last week, the judge handling the case offered only a stern warning for the former Trump campaign chairman in court Monday.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in a status conference that the point of her November order, which barred parties and lawyers in the case from making statements to the media that could affect the case, was to ensure the merits of the case are debated in the courtroom and not the press.
“Mr. Manafort, that order applies to you and not just your lawyer,” Jackson said.
However, the judge vacated her earlier order to show cause as to why Manafort had not violated the order when he edited a op-ed published in a Ukrainian newspaper.
Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing, said his client has faced a “torrent of negative press” about his conduct and that he hoped the judge might offer more guidance about what Manafort is permitted to do. Jackson said that, if Downing filed a motion with specific questions about the order, she would Reply.
But Jackson added that there have also been disparaging articles in the media about the special counsel’s team, led by Robert Mueller, as well as the court itself, and that neither of those parties has a way to set the record straight in those situations.
“I don’t think that the answer is necessarily making public commentary at this time while this case is pending,” Jackson said.
Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, pleaded not guilty to a 12-count indictment in October that included money laundering and failure to register as a foreign agent, and both remain on house arrest pending approval of bail packages with the government.
Jackson also addressed the bail issues in Monday’s hearing. Though the government initially agreed to a roughly $11 million bail package proposed by Downing and Thomas Zehnle, Manafort’s other lawyer, the special counsel lawyers backtracked that support after finding out about the op-ed.
Jackson asked Monday if the government lawyers agreed with Manafort now on whether the proposed package, which includes several of Manafort’s properties, meets a value of more than $10 million.
Andrew Weissmann, of the special counsel’s office, told Jackson that the lawyers were not completely sure they believed Manafort about the value of his homes, but that they were sure the homes had some value and that they could be sufficient for bail.
“The biggest issue we have is one of trust,” Weissmann said.
Jackson told Downing that she needed more information about Manafort’s New York City condominium, as it appeared only a posting from the website Zillow was offered as proof of value. Downing said Zillow is “actually considered to be pretty accurate,” but that he would try to submit more formal documentation.
The judge also asked about Manafort’s travel. The proposed bail package would allow travel to New York and Florida, where Manafort has homes and conducts business. Jackson said she was “not sure” about allowing domestic travel between the homes and asked Downing which home Manafort preferred. He replied that would be the home in Florida.
Weissmann said the government would suggest Manafort be required to provide a week’s notice prior to traveling to New York, D.C. or Florida. Jackson did not indicate if she had a preference and said she would consider the parties’ positions.
As for Gates, the judge inquired about the potential conflict of interest for one of his lawyers, Walter Mack, which the special counsel brought to light last month. Mack currently works as a defense lawyer in an unrelated wire fraud case in New York, where his client Steven Brown faces charges that he defrauded investors.
Prosecutors said the case could present a conflict because Gates and Brown have worked together, and Gates could potentially serve as a witness in Brown’s case.
Mack wrote in court filings that neither Gates nor Brown is expected to be a part of the others’ trial. Monday, Jackson asked Gates several questions under oath to ensure he understood that possible conflicts could arise if Mack was obligated to abide by attorney-client privilege for both Gates and Brown, since Mack would not be allowed to use anything learned from Brown in Gates’ case and vice versa.
Gates said he was aware of the potential conflicts and still wanted to proceed with Mack as his lawyer.
The next status conference for Gates and Manafort will be Jan. 16 at 9:30 a.m.