November 8, 2017 / 8:03 PM / in a month

U.S. judge issues gag order in Manafort case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The judge presiding over the criminal case against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager issued a gag order on Wednesday barring anyone involved in the case from making public statements that might taint it.

Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates were arraigned in federal court in Washington last week on a 12-count indictment that accused them of conspiring to launder money, failing to disclose foreign bank accounts and failing to register as foreign agents of Ukraine’s former pro-Russian government.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in her written order she wanted to make sure the trial was fair and that potential jurors were not influenced by pre-trial publicity.

She directed the defendants, all lawyers and any potential witnesses to “refrain from making statements to the media or in public settings that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice” to the case.

Jackson had previously warned lawyers about discussing the case publicly after Manafort defense lawyer Kevin Downing made a defiant statement outside the courthouse following his client’s arraignment on Monday.

“This is a criminal trial and not a public relations campaign,” Jackson said in court last week.

Downing, appearing before television cameras on Monday, said the charges against Manafort were “ridiculous” and said the president was correct to insist there was “no evidence the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.”

The charges against Manafort and Gates stem from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Manafort and Gates have both pleaded not guilty.

The Kremlin has denied meddling in the election and Trump has denied any collusion took place.

Downing did not respond to a request for comment. Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment.

Jackson had asked the parties last week if they had any objections to a gag order. None responded.

Downing’s statements outside the courthouse had raised eyebrows among defense lawyers.

“Judge Jackson is a no-nonsense judge and he’s clearly angered her to no purpose,” said Eric Lewis, a longtime Washington trial lawyer.

But Los Angeles defense lawyer Mark Geragos said he thought Downing might indeed have had a purpose in mind: currying favor with Trump in the hopes of eventually securing Manafort a presidential pardon.

“The cynic in me would say that was exactly what was happening,” said Geragos, “that there was an audience of one.”

Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Editing by Anthony Lin and Leslie Adler

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