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Special Counsel Mueller Warns That Manafort And Gates Pose A Flight Risk


Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort made his first court appearance since his indictment was unsealed earlier this week. Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, are asking a judge to relax their bail conditions. Lawyers for special counsel Robert Mueller warn that both men present a flight risk.

NPR's Carrie Johnson was in court today, and she's here now to talk more about these issues. Hi, Carrie.


SHAPIRO: What was the atmosphere like at the federal courthouse?

JOHNSON: It was pretty tense. There was high security, long lines to get into the courtroom even an hour before the proceedings started. A security dog named Brando was sniffing people as they walked through the doors. And then Paul Manafort and Rick Gates walked in, both wearing suits, not saying much, if anything, during the 30-minute hearing.

SHAPIRO: They're both under home confinement right now. And I understand there's some disagreement over those conditions. Explain.

JOHNSON: Yeah. You'll recall Manafort and Gates both voluntarily turned themselves in to the FBI on Monday morning. In fact, Manafort's lawyers now say he knew back in August that he would be charged, but he stayed in the country to face these charges. Both men have pleaded not guilty. But lawyers for the special counsel say they worry one or both of these guys might flee the country before they go to trial. They point out the 12 charges against them from conspiracy to money laundering are serious. These guys have foreign assets. And they both have more than one passport. In court today, prosecutor Greg Andres said, we need to see some property or real estate or something that would insure these defendants are going to return to court.

Now, lawyers for Manafort point out it's not unusual for people who travel frequently to have multiple passports. I've been talking with immigration lawyers about that. They say it's true. There are lots of reasons, like if you travel a lot you might run out of pages in your passport. Or if you need to travel from, say, Israel to a Middle Eastern country, you might want a couple of different passports. But three passports like Paul Manafort allegedly had still seems kind of unusual.

SHAPIRO: So you described the arguments the lawyers made. What did we hear from the judge today?

JOHNSON: Judge Amy Berman Jackson is an appointee of President Barack Obama, former President Obama. She said she couldn't understand exactly what Paul Manafort's lawyers wanted. They appeared in court to change their position a couple of times. Finally, they asked the judge to release Manafort from having to undergo this GPS or electronic monitoring. Lawyers for Rick Gates, who has some young kids, say he wants to attend their sports games this weekend and be able to get out of the house to do that.

The judge has ordered the defense and the government to lay out their arguments in writing. But she said, I'm concerned - very concerned - about some of the information the special counsel has highlighted. And she thought there would need to be some really good reasons to release these guys from electronic monitoring. Everybody's due back in court Monday morning.

SHAPIRO: High-profile cases like this, we often see a scrum outside the courthouse where the lawyers speak. Did they have anything to say outside the courthouse today?

JOHNSON: Sadly, no. Remember that Kevin Downing, the lawyer for Paul Manafort, earlier this week told reporters this indictment was ridiculous and there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Well, Judge Jackson didn't seem to like those remarks. She warned both sides today fairly sternly that this is a criminal trial, not a PR campaign. And she said, I expect counsel to do their talking in this courtroom, not on the courthouse steps. The judge even mentioned on Monday she's considering imposing a formal order to that effect.

SHAPIRO: This is only the first week. It was just a few days ago that these indictments were unsealed. Any sense of how quickly this is likely to proceed?

JOHNSON: Well, a bit of a surprise there today. You know, there are hundreds of thousands of documents in this case both from the U.S. and overseas. But Paul Manafort's lawyer says he wants to go to trial in April 2018, and the judge said today she thinks that might work. She's going to talk more about it next week. And so far, there's still no sign despite all the legal and financial pressure on Paul Manafort that he's going to want to change his plea, plead guilty and cooperate with this investigation.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks a lot, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.