U.S. judge issues gag order in Manafort-Gates Russia probe case


WASHINGTON - The federal judge overseeing the criminal trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and business partner Rick Gates imposed a gag order Wednesday in the case ordering all parties, including potential witnesses, not to make statements that might prejudice jurors.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington issued the order five days after signaling her intention to do so. In a two-page order Wednesday morning, Jackson said she had received no objections by the Tuesday deadline she had set for the parties to weigh in.

Jackson barred any prejudicial statements "to the media or public settings" to safeguard the defendants receiving a fair trial, "and to ensure that the Court has the ability to seat a jury that has not been tainted by pretrial publicity."

The ruling applied to all participants in the case, including the parties, potential witnesses and attorneys.

Manafort, 68, and Gates, 45, remain under home confinement on pledges to pay $10 million and $5 million, respectively, if they fail to return to court after pleading not guilty Oct. 30 to charges of conspiracy, money laundering and making false lobbyist registration statements in connection with their work advising a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine.

The indictment unsealed that same day included the first criminal allegations disclosed by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller , which is investigating possible Russian influence in U.S. political affairs including the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.

In court last Friday, Jackson, a 2011 appointee of President Barack Obama, noted extraordinary public interest in the case, and implicitly rebuked one of Manafort's attorneys, Kevin Downing, after he gave a statement defending his client to reporters outside the courthouse.

"I expect counsel to make their statements in the courtroom and in pleadings, and not on the courthouse steps," Jackson said Friday.

Jackson's order is consistent with the local rules in federal court in Washington, she noted, in widely publicized cases.

The rules are targeted at comments likely to affect the outcome of a trial or the impartiality of jurors.

Jackson on Monday said she was inclined to release the men from home confinement once they work out a deal to disclose assets and secure a bond package for their release.

Jackson said she was inclined to end home confinement but not to permit the men to travel internationally, but would await ruling on that until further details take part between the parties.

"If financial arrangements are made that are satisfactory to the government, I am inclined to impose a less restrictive regime," Jackson said Monday, however, "we're going to have to wait for consideration of further information."

Jackson said she was also was considering ordering the men to stay away from transportation facilities, meet a curfew and continue being monitored by electronic GPS. Jackson set a Dec. 11 hearing to set a scheduling for a trial as early as April.

Author Information: Spencer S. Hsu is an investigative reporter, two-time Pulitzer finalist and national Emmy award nominee.