- A group of lawyers representing Rick Gates, one of Paul Manafort’s longtime associates who is facing money laundering charges in the Russia investigation, has quit the case, effective immediately.
- The attorneys filed the request on Thursday, according to a court document. The reason for their withdrawal was not immediately known.
- The development could signal that Gates may seek a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller.
Lawyers representing Rick Gates, the longtime associate of Paul Manafort, who is facing money laundering charges in the Russia investigation, have quit the case, effective immediately.
Gates’ counsel filed the request on Thursday according to a court document. The reason for their withdrawal was not immediately known, but the document cites information that is currently the subject of a motion which remains under court seal.
Gates and Manafort in October were hit with money laundering charges and for failure to register as foreign agents. Both have pleaded not guilty.
The men have been central figures in the Russia probe, in which US prosecutors are investigating whether the Trump campaign cooperated with the Kremlin in an effort to help get Donald Trump elected in 2016.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said Thursday that it was unusual for Gates’ lawyers to withdraw without publicly explaining why, which is known as a noisy withdrawal. In such cases, lawyers withdraw when they can no longer ethically justify representing a client, but they cannot publicly reveal anything protected under attorney-client privilege when dropping the case. That stands in contrast to a normal withdrawal, when lawyers withdraw for reasons that can be stated on the record, Mariotti said.
Another possibility, he told Business Insider, is that Gates is cooperating and negotiating a plea deal with Mueller’s office. The likelihood of this being the case was bolstered by a CNN report last week which said Gates added the white-collar attorney Tom Green to his defense team. A source told CNN that Green may have been preparing Gates to flip as a cooperating witness in the investigation.
Former federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter said Thursday that the changes to Gates’ legal team are “often” representative of “a prelude to a plea.”
Cotter said that if Gates is indeed vying for a deal, it is possible that his attorneys simply did not want to be associated with a client who capitulated to Mueller. “Some lawyers just don’t like to be known as someone who lets their clients cooperate,” Cotter said, adding that it’s “bad for business.”
Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who is now the managing director at Berkeley Research Group, suggested that Gates’ attorneys may also have had to withdraw if he decided to cooperate with investigators while his lawyers were representing both his and Manafort’s interests. “Depending on who was paying for Gates’ attorneys,” Cramer said, “there could now be an issue if he were to cooperate against Manafort and/or others.”