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Rick Gates had his ‘queen for a day’ interview. What the heck is that?

Reports say Rick Gates will cooperate with Robert Mueller’s probe.
Reports say Rick Gates will cooperate with Robert Mueller’s probe.Associated Press/File 2017

Has indicted former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates been playing “Queen for a Day”?

According to media reports, Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller and has had a “queen for a day” interview.

A “queen for a day” interview happens in a federal case when someone involved in a case offers to tell prosecutors what they know, with prosecutors promising not to use that interview directly against them.

Typically, such interviews are held when prosecutors already have the person “dead to rights,” and they want to know what else the person can offer in terms of information that will merit them a plea deal, said Alex Whiting, a Harvard Law School professor whose career includes stints as a federal prosecutor in Boston and Washington as well as at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

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“The prosecution does not want to buy a pig in a poke,” said Whiting. The prosecution attitude is that “I’m not going to give you a deal until you tell me what you’ve got,” he said.

The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that Gates will plead guilty to fraud-related charges in the coming days and cooperate with investigators.

A “queen for a day” session, also known as a “proffer” session, is a “sneak preview in which you show the federal authorities what you can bring to the table if they cut a deal with you,” Solomon L. Wisenberg, a Washington white collar defense lawyer and former top aide to Kenneth Starr, said in a post on his firm’s website.

Wisenberg warned in the post that proffer sessions are a “dangerous game.”

It’s all part of the highly complicated and lengthy dance of trying to get people to cooperate. which revolves around what exactly a person can offer and how light a punishment they will face — and it involves plenty of lawyers. The general goal: to get evidence on the people higher up in the scheme.

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A “queen for a day” session is held with the defendant, the defendant’s lawyer, the federal prosecutor, and federal agents, lawyers said.

“It’s often the case that defendants who do the ‘queen for a day’ have already made the decision that they’re going to plead guilty,” said Whiting. “Now you’re just hoping to get cooperation on top of it to reduce your sentence.”

“You really shouldn’t do this unless you’re prepared to plead guilty,” he said.

Proffer sessions are risky for a variety of reasons. Prosecutors aren’t allowed to use in a trial what is said in the session, but they can use it to “develop further evidence which can then be used against you,” Whiting said.

For example, if a defendant testifies that he committed a fraud with Bob, Joe, and Sally, prosecutors can’t use the defendant’s statement, but investigators can interview Bob, Joe, and Sally to develop evidence against the defendants said, Whiting said.

In addition, lawyers said, the proffer letter from prosecutors may specify that if you testify differently at trial from your proffer session, prosecutors can bring up your earlier testimony to impeach your credibility, or, in some cases, they can bring into evidence your entire proffer testimony.

“You’ve made a statement now. You can’t go to trial and offer up different defenses,” Whiting said. “You’ve kind of boxed yourself in as a defendant.”

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