Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign adviser who faces federal criminal charges in special counsel Robert Muller’s investigation, is now facing questions from a federal judge about his arrangement with a Washington lobbyist known for supporting a conspiracy theory on the killing of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson wants Gates to explain why a taped video message to supporters would not violate a gag order placed on lawyers and defendants in the case. Lobbyist Jack Burkman played that video Tuesday night over Facebook Live at a gathering of mostly journalists at a hotel in Northern Virginia that was billed as a fundraiser.
In the video, a bearded Gates thanks donors but shies away from commenting on his case.
Gates must say “why the court should not find that his reported personal participation in the creation of a fundraising video” doesn’t violate the gag order, the judge ruled. She also told Gates to detail his relationship to Burkman.
Gates, who was indicted alongside former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, recorded the fundraising video sometime in the last six weeks and pledged he would fight the charges against him. He’s pleaded not guilty to eight counts of money laundering and falsifying records.
A spokesperson who represents both Burkman and Gates provided a copy of the video to CNN.
“Thank you to Jack Burkman for hosting the fundraiser, for believing in the cause and for ensuring that supporters from across the United States hear our message and stand with us,” Gates said in the video.
“As you may be aware, there is a gag order in the case, so I am not able to talk specifically about the case. However, I can say because of you we will have the resources to fight,” Gates said.
Gates’ three lawyers did not respond to repeated requests for comment and did not attend the event.
The Justice Department’s office of special counsel would not comment earlier this week on whether it believes Gates’ appeal on Tuesday crossed the lines of his gag order.
Another public appeal, where Manafort worked on an op-ed to defend himself in a Ukrainian English-language newspaper, previously raised both prosecutors’ and the judge’s attention for toeing the line of the gag order.
Burkman is a lobbyist who previously sought to keep the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich in the news this year, including with an ad looking for tips on the murder and a promise to re-enact Rich’s death on video. The Rich murder became fodder for a conspiracy theory in right-wing media.
Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department has said it believes Rich was the victim of a botched robbery attempt.
Burkman also previously pledged to host a fundraiser to oppose Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and to lobby the NFL to ban openly gay players.
Details of the legal defense fund, called the “Defending American Rights Legal Fund,” are not entirely clear.
Burkman wouldn’t say on Tuesday how many donations the fund has received, if any, and from whom, but said he wouldn’t “fool with anything international.” The lobbyist also said he gave to Gates, but would not disclose the amount.
Burkman said his quest to help Gates came about after their “mutual friend” – spokesman Glenn Selig, who works for both of them – put the two in touch.
Gates is the second known target of Mueller’s investigation to make a public appeal for financial help. Previously, the family of Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, established a legal defense fund seeking contributions from supporters, especially military veterans, through a website. The fund is named after Flynn and specifies it won’t accept contributions from foreign nationals.
Burkman told reporters he believes Mueller’s special counsel investigation is biased.
“Basically, I’ve called Mueller the devil – tongue in cheek. But I really mean that,” Burkman, who is also a radio host, told CNN on Tuesday. “The Mueller investigation is bad news.”
Gates’s bail arrangement
Gates’ lawyers never filed a public request with the court that asked for an exemption from his house arrest to attend the event Tuesday. The 70-second video of Gates was all Burkman had to show Tuesday night.
Gates still awaits a judge’s ruling on a request his lawyers made to change his bail terms and free him from house arrest. The current bail situation has kept him inside his Richmond, Virginia, home since Oct. 30 with a handful of exceptions.
On Wednesday, Judge Berman Jackson in DC District Court said Gates could attend some but not all of the holiday events he requested to attend over eight days between Dec. 21 and Jan. 1. Among the exemptions Gates requested was a trip to West Virginia he’d like to take with his family for Christmas vacation.
This story has been updated.