Manafort Co-Defendant Rick Gates's Defense Team Seeks Exit

(Bloomberg) -- Three lawyers for Paul Manafort’s co-defendant, Rick Gates, have told the court they want to quit in the criminal money-laundering conspiracy case, raising the possibility of a defense strategy shift and possible cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

The lawyers filed their reasons for leaving under seal. However, Gates has reportedly hired long-time Washington criminal defense attorney Tom Green, whose resume stretches back to the Nixon-era Watergate scandal and who helped negotiate a plea deal for disgraced former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

The attorneys, Shanlon Wu, Walter Mack and Annemarie McAvoy, sought permission to step down in a two-page filing late Thursday with U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington. Their reasons could range from financial or compatibility issues to differences in defense strategy to Gates agreeing to cooperate with Mueller’s team.

In an indictment unsealed Oct. 27, Gates and Manafort were accused of money laundering and illegal foreign lobbying related to their work on behalf of Ukraine’s former president and his political party. That work occurred years before they went to work on Trump’s election bid. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

Manafort was brought into Donald Trump’s campaign by a longtime Trump friend, Tom Barrack, who later employed Gates. Barrack said he met Gates during the campaign and later tapped him to work on Trump’s inauguration committee, which Barrack ran, and at his real estate company. Gates was fired following his indictment.

‘First-Rate’ Lawyer

In addition to Hastert, Green represented retired U.S. General Richard Secord in connection with the Reagan era Iran-Contra controversy and former Assistant Attorney General Robert Mardian in the Nixon administration’s Watergate scandal, according to his firm biography. He also successfully defended former Puerto Rico Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila, who faced mail-fraud and money-laundering charges.

Green didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment. He hasn’t yet formally appeared in the case.

A former senior Justice Department official, Adam Lurie, called Green a "first-rate white collar defense lawyer" with a great reputation. Lurie is now a partner in the Washington office of Linklaters.

Gates and Manafort were ordered confined to their homes after their initial court appearance on Oct. 30. Gates’s defense team won some limited pre-trial freedom for their client on Jan. 16.

In court that day, Jackson tried to reconcile competing concerns in an effort to schedule court hearings and set a trial date, prompting Mack to ask her for a less rigorous schedule.

"We need the time, and we are the least prepared of anyone here," Gates’s lawyer told the judge then.

The case is U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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