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Paul Manafort, Rick Gates Back In Court For Bail Negotiations


Two of President Trump's former campaign aides were back in court today, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates. They face money laundering and other charges as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. NPR's Ryan Lucas was in the courtroom earlier today, and he's with us now. And Ryan, Manafort and Gates were indicted at the end of October. Why were they back in court today?

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, today's hearing touched on a number of things. And there's one significant matter that is still being worked out, and that is a bail package for Manafort. It's kind of weird that it's taken so long. Today the judge had questions about the assessed values of some of the real estate that Manafort's defense team has put forward in their proposed bail package.

Just over a week ago, it looked like Manafort had reached an agreement with the special counsel's office on a bail deal that would get him out of home confinement. A few days later, the special counsel's team says, hold on. You know, we've changed our mind. The reason for this, they said, was that Manafort was anonymously co-authoring an editorial with a Russian associate with ties - alleged ties to Russia's intelligence services.

SIEGEL: Let's focus on that for a moment. You're saying that after he was indicted, Manafort has been in contact with someone who's linked to a Russian spy service. What more can you tell us about that?

LUCAS: Well, it is pretty weird, yes. There's - a quick reminder basically about what this is all about. So prosecutors say that Manafort helped ghost write an English-language op-ed for a Ukrainian newspaper. The editorial portrayed him in a favorable light. And Manafort's associates in Ukraine say that Manafort didn't really have much of a role in this. But in court papers that prosecutors filed on Friday, they provided an exhibit that showed specific changes that they say Manafort made to the draft. And they have the times that those changes were made.

Now, there are a host of problems with Manafort's actions according to prosecutors, but the big one is that it was a violation of the judge's gag order not to try the case in the press, in the public sphere. And for prosecutors, they also say that it raises questions about, you know, trust when it comes to his bail. Now, today Manafort's attorney defended the op-ed and said that since it was for a Ukrainian newspaper, it's not a big deal. Manafort's not on trial in Ukraine. He said Manafort's reputation is under attack in the press and that Manafort was just trying to set the record straight.

Now, Judge Amy Berman Jackson chided him for this. She said even if it's in a Ukrainian paper, because of the Internet and the global reach of that, it could impact opinions in the U.S., and it could therefore, you know, impact the trial. And she warned the defense that she'll view things like this in the future as an attempt to evade her gag order. And I thought it interesting that she also said that the special counsel's team has received bad press, but it hasn't been trying to set the record straight in the media.

SIEGEL: And what do you think she meant by bad press and that case?

LUCAS: Remember; the president reportedly was considering firing Mueller earlier this year over concerns about the Russia investigation and where it might lead. The president was ultimately talked out of this. But you know, some of his allies have in a sense taken up the cause. Some of his supporters on the Hill and in conservative media have criticized Mueller and raised questions about the integrity and sort of the evenhandedness of his team. They've accused prosecutors on Mueller's staff of being Hillary Clinton supporters. They point to campaign donations.

Now, it's important to note here that Mueller himself is a Republican. Campaign donations are permitted under Justice Department guidelines. But still, you know, Trump's backers have seized on reports that a former FBI official was removed from Mueller's team for exchanging anti-Trump text messages. So, yes, Mueller's folks have come under attack.

SIEGEL: And just very briefly, Ryan, what can we look forward to next in the Russia investigation?

LUCAS: Well, we're waiting for the other shoe to fall following Michael Flynn's plea deal. That was just over a week ago, and we don't know exactly where that's going to lead. But the expectation is that he's got a story to tell. So we'll see what it is.

SIEGEL: NPR's Ryan Lucas, thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.