Chuck Ross, DCNF
- The special counsel’s office has said it does not have evidence of any contacts between Paul Manafort and Russian government and intelligence officials
- Manafort is a longtime political consultant who has been indicted on money laundering and bank fraud charges
- The former Trump campaign chairman laundered millions of dollars and failed to properly register as a foreign agent, prosecutors say
The special counsel’s office has told lawyers for Paul Manafort that it does not have evidence of any contacts between the former Trump campaign chairman and Russian government and intelligence officials.
That’s at least according to Manafort’s attorneys, who disclosed details of the interactions in court papers filed on Monday night.
The lawyers say they want a hearing to look government officials’ leaks to the media regarding Manafort, a longtime political consultant who has been indicted on money laundering and bank fraud charges.
“By their actions, it is self-evident that the objective of these government sources was to create unfair prejudice against Mr. Manafort and thereby deprive him of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights,” wrote Manafort lawyers Kevin M. Downing and Thomas E. Zehnle.
The court filing, submitted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, lists seven news articles about the Manafort investigation that rely on U.S. government sources.
“The government-sourced leaks concerning surveillance of Mr. Manafort with foreign individuals is particularly troubling,” the attorneys wrote.
Downing and Zehnle say that they have filed “multiple” requests for discovery with the special counsel’s office for any evidence of Manafort’s contacts with Russian government or intelligence officials.
They wrote that the special counsel’s office, which is being led by Robert Mueller, “has not produced any materials to the defense — no tapes, notes, transcripts or other material evidencing surveillance or intercepts of communications between Mr. Manafort and Russian intelligence officials, Russian government officials (or any other foreign officials.)”
“The Office of Special Counsel has advised there are no materials responsive to Mr. Manafort’s requests,” they add.
The lawyers assert that “the natural implication of this is that these government leaks were intentionally designed to create a false narrative in order to garner support for the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate Mr. Manafort for purportedly coordinating with Russian intelligence/government officials despite the lack of any such evidence.”
“If this proves to be true, then Mr. Manafort should not have been referred to the Special Counsel for investigation of coordination with the Russian government, nor for any other matters,” they wrote.
The special counsel’s office declined comment in response to Manafort’s filing.
The indictments against Manafort center on work he did through 2014 for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort laundered millions of dollars in payments for the Ukraine work and failed to properly register as a foreign agent, prosecutors say.
Manafort was investigated in 2014 for the Ukraine work, but the Obama Justice Department declined to press charges.
Mueller and his team of prosecutors have yet to make any allegations against Manafort regarding his work on the Trump campaign. There has been some speculation that the investigation is moving in that direction.
Rick Gates, a former Manafort business partner and Trump campaign aide, is cooperating with Mueller’s team as part of a plea deal. Manafort is also mentioned in one of the 48 questions that Mueller wants to ask in a prospective interview with President Donald Trump regarding possible collusion with Russia.
“What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?” reads one of the questions.
The question raises the possibility that Mueller’s team has information about Manafort that has yet to be made public.
Manafort’s relationship with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska could be one avenue for any campaign collusion, if it occurred. Manafort sent emails to a Ukrainian business associate during the campaign saying that he would be willing to provide briefings on the campaign to Deripaska, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Manafort’s camp says that the briefing never happened. Campaign emails also show that Manafort rejected offers from Trump adviser George Papadopoulos to set up meetings with Russian government officials.
Manafort’s team has strongly denied that he coordinated or conspired with Russians to influence the election.
“Paul Manafort did not collude with the Russian government to undermine the 2016 election or to hack the DNC,” Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, told reporters in August 2017.
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