Rick Gates backs legal fund from Republican lobbyist

Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign adviser who faces federal criminal charges in special counsel Robert Muller's inv...

Posted: Dec. 22, 2017 9:29 AM
Updated: Dec. 22, 2017 9:29 AM

Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign adviser who faces federal criminal charges in special counsel Robert Muller's investigation, is partnering with a Washington lobbyist known for supporting a conspiracy theory on the killing of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

Gates, who was indicted alongside former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, recorded a fundraising video sometime in the last six weeks to thank lobbyist Jack Burkman and others who might donate to his legal cause. Gates also pledged he would fight his charges. He's pleaded not guilty to eight counts of money laundering and falsifying records.

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. A November 8 order from a federal judge prevents him and others involved in the criminal matter from making statements to the media or in public that might influence the case. 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 on whether it suspected Gates' appeal on Tuesday crossed the lines of his gag order.

So far, the video and Tuesday's event have not been mentioned in court filings in Gates' criminal case -- though 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.

RELATED: Judge warns Manafort on Ukrainian op-ed

Controversial lobbyist

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.

RELATED: Seth Rich and the myth behind the unsolved murder case

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 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 Amy 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.

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