Want to know what’s really going on in the prosecution of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates? Well, tough luck, kid. Judge Amy Berman Jackson has issued a gag order on both sides, instructing the legal teams to stop talking to the press, which might set up a fight down the road:
The federal judge overseeing the case against former Donald Trump campaign aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates has issued a gag order in the case.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Wednesday said the order is necessary to limit the impact on potential jurors.
“In order to safeguard defendants’ rights to a fair trial, and to ensure that the court has the ability to seat a jury that has not been tainted by pretrial publicity, all interested participants in the matter, including the parties, any potential witnesses, and counsel for the parties and the witnesses, are hereby ordered to refrain from making statements to the media or in public settings that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case,” Jackson wrote.
The order goes beyond the opposing attorneys for the principals. It also includes Manafort and Gates, any witnesses that might be called, and any attorneys for the witnesses as well. Jackson doesn’t want anyone talking, and as she noted in the order, she has the authority to prevent it from happening.
— Big Cases Bot (@big_cases) November 8, 2017
Interestingly, neither side entered any official objection to the order after Jackson raised the possibility last week, according to the language in the order. That seems in keeping with the public profiles of both the prosecution and the defense in this case. Neither has seemed anxious to go on the record with the media; Mueller’s team is all too aware that they’re perceived as overtly political as it is, and Manafort and Gates had to hope that this would all go away at some point.
One might assume that the lack of objection means there will be no problem in cooperating with the gag order. However, it does seem that media outlets have received leaks from within Mueller’s team about their efforts, including the scoop nearly two weeks ago that the grand jury had returned indictments in the probe. If those leaks continue, the journalists involved may find themselves in Jackson’s court having to decide whether to protect their sources at the risk of indeterminate jail time for contempt.
Given just how juicy this case will be — and how much the political class wants to fight it out in the public square — the temptation for all sides to leak is high enough that such a showdown seems inevitable. Also, both sides and the witnesses still will face some temptation to shape the media battlefield, especially the closer the case comes to trial. Which journalist will be the first to gain media sainthood with a First Amendment defense, or get savaged by colleagues for reporting the inconvenient side? Maybe we should ask Judith Miller to game out the odds.