U.S. judge orders Manafort, Gates to remain on house arrest
Lawyers for Trump's former campaign advisers say evidence is flimsy
A U.S. judge on Thursday ordered indicted former Trump campaign advisers Paul Manafort and Richard Gates to remain under house arrest, rejecting for now their pleas for less stringent bail conditions.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson also sharply warned lawyers for the duo not to speak about their case outside of court.
"This is a criminal trial and not a public relations campaign," Jackson said during the hearing.
Manafort, 68, who served several months as Trump's campaign manager, and Gates, 45, who also worked on the Republican's campaign, pleaded not guilty on Monday to a 12-count indictment, whose charges included conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy against the United States and failing to register as foreign agents of Ukraine's former pro-Russian government.
A conviction on conspiracy to launder money alone could carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
In a filing with the court on Thursday, Manafort's attorney, Kevin Downing, argued that the government's case against his client is flimsy and that the bail conditions should be softened because Manafort does not pose a flight risk.
Gates' attorneys made a similar request to the court.
But Jackson said initial bail terms for both men would remain in place for now, and set a bail hearing for Monday to consider changes.
Manafort and Gates are under house arrest, under unsecured bonds of $10 million and $5 million, respectively. Prosecutors have argued there is a risk the men would flee.
In a related development, Sam Clovis, a top adviser to Trump during the campaign, on Thursday withdrew his candidacy for a senior administration post, just days after he was linked to another aide who pleaded guilty in the probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
In a letter to Trump describing his decision, Clovis made no mention of the Russia controversy, but cited "the political climate inside Washington."
"The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day," Clovis wrote in the letter, dated Wednesday. "As I am focused on your success and the success of this Administration, I do not want to be a distraction or negative influence."
Trump had nominated Clovis, his campaign's national co-chairman, to a top post as chief scientist at the Department of Agriculture.
A source familiar with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation identified Clovis as the unnamed campaign supervisor in a court filing who had discussions with Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos about efforts to improve U.S.-Russian relations and setting up meetings between senior Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to FBI agents about his dealings with Russians.
"Mr. Clovis' nomination was only withdrawn because that would certainly have been a topic during his upcoming testimony, under oath, before the Senate Agriculture Committee," Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, a member of the committee, said. "I know because I was going ask him all about it to get more facts on the record and before the American people."
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: "We respect Mr. Clovis's decision to withdraw his nomination."
Foreign agent charges rarely sought in past
In their court filing, attorneys for Manafort defended him as a "successful, international political consultant" who, by nature of his work on behalf of foreign political parties, was necessarily involved in international financial transactions. They said Manafort has done nothing wrong.
Downing denied that Manafort was involved in any criminal activity related to his Ukrainian work, saying that all funds that went through offshore bank accounts were from "legal sources."
Downing said that Manafort was not trying to conceal his assets, noting that prosecutors say funds that originated in the Ukraine and went through Cyprus ultimately arrived in the United States.
"Obviously, international funds entering the U.S. banking system, or going to U.S. vendors, are traceable and subject to U.S. process," they said. "It goes without saying that in an international scheme to conceal assets, individuals generally move them offshore, not to the United States."
The defence lawyers also challenged the inclusion in the indictment of allegations that Manafort failed to register as a foreign agent with the Justice Department. The Justice Department, they said, has brought only six criminal prosecutions under that statute since 1966 and secured only one conviction during that period.
With files from Associated Press