The judge overseeing the criminal case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and deputy Rick Gates emphasized Wednesday the need for transparency in the proceedings, then held two hours of closed-door hearings on issues relating to Manafort’s bail conditions and tumult on Gates’ legal team.
The court sessions provided no public resolution to several key questions about the case, such as when a trial will begin for the two men on charges of money laundering, submitting false statements to the Justice Department and failing to register as foreign lobbyists for their work relating to Ukraine.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson expressed irritation with the fact that the lawyers remain engaged in ancillary disputes, like the bail issue and requests by Gates’ lawyers to withdraw from the case, rather than progressing toward a trial.
"I believe that this case needs a trial date," Jackson said. "I realize are some circumstances that may make that impossible to do today, but it needs to happen soon….It’s unacceptable."
Jackson suggested at a hearing last month that a trial beginning in September or October was possible, saying any sooner might not allow enough time for pretrial motions to be resolved.
As defense attorneys and prosecutors engaged with the judge Wednesday, often in sidebar conferences obscured with a white noise machine, a prominent Washington defense lawyer reported to be joining Gates’ team — Tom Green of Sidley Austin — entered and took a seat in the back of the gallery.
Green declined to comment to reporters on whether he is joining or taking over Gates’ defense. However, he spoke with Gates at length in a courthouse hallway and was admitted to a closed-door session on the motion by Gates’ current defense team to withdraw.
When that session broke just after noon, one of Gates’ current lawyers, Shanlon Wu, said the current team has not yet been relieved by the judge.
"We’re still in the case," Wu told reporters as he departed with a colleague. "There’s no status change."
Jackson said too much information related to the case was being submitted to the court under seal, often with lawyers arguing that the details should be kept private because of media attention to the legal fight.
"The fact that this case is of significant public interest is not a reason to seal things — it’s a reason to unseal things," the judge said. "I think people are overdoing it just a little bit."
Jackson said she was ordering the release of one filing in which Gates asked for another week to address his lawyers’ request to withdraw, and she instructed Manafort’s attorneys to file a redacted version of their latest submission regarding financial assets being offered to secure his release on bail.
Prosecutor Greg Andres said during the hearing that his office has turned over most of the information to Manafort and Gates’ defense that they’re entitled to but that searches are still going on for information in other parts of the Mueller probe that might need to be given to Manafort and Gates.
"We’re looking through those files to make sure there’s nothing else that’s discoverable," Andres said.