Judge in Manafort case chides lawyers over sealed filings

WASHINGTON — The judge presiding over the criminal prosecutions of two of the men charged in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation chided lawyers Wednesday for the number of sealed filings they've made, and said she was determined to set a trial date soon to keep the case moving forward.

Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for President Donald Trump, and his business associate Rick Gates were in federal court on Wednesday for a routine status conference. Both were indicted in October on charges related to lobbying work on behalf of a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party. They have pleaded not guilty.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that while she understood the need to protect certain information, such as bank account numbers and names of family members, she thought the lawyers had been "overdoing it" with the amount of filings being made under seal and out of public view. She ordered that several filings in the case be added to the public docket in at least redacted form.

"The fact that this case is of significant public interest is not a reason to seal things," the judge said. "It's a reason to unseal things."

Nonetheless, lawyers for each defendant met with Jackson behind closed doors for long stretches on Wednesday.

Manafort and Gates, accused of money laundering conspiracy, making false statements and other crimes, were charged as part of Mueller's investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. Prosecutors revealed the indictment against the two men on the same day they unsealed a guilty plea from George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide. They have since reached a plea deal with former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.

At one point during the status conference, Jackson appeared exasperated that no trial date has been set for Manafort and Gates, noting that they face serious charges and potentially yearslong prison sentences and should therefore have the case move along. She expressed frustration that the early court dates in the case have been largely focused on other matters, such as both defendants' requests to change the conditions of home confinement that were imposed immediately after their indictment.

Lawyers for Gates said in a court filing made public last week that they had "irreconcilable differences" with their client and have asked to withdraw from the case. The nature of those differences has not been publicly disclosed, and all lawyers in the case remain under a gag order.

A veteran Washington criminal defense lawyer, Thomas Green, sat in the back of the courtroom during the status conference and was seen walking out with Gates.

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Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

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