We read all 67 pages of Mueller’s latest court filings on Paul Manafort — here are the main takeaways – By Sonam Seth (businessinsider.com) / April 25 2018
The special counsel Robert Mueller’s office filed new court documents Monday night that reveal the extent of prosecutors’ interest in Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign, and his connection to Russian interests.
Mueller’s office filed three motions:
- One of them opposed Manafort’s request for a bill of particulars, which is a detailed, formal written statement of charges against a defendant.
- The second opposed Manafort’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during an FBI search last May of a storage locker in Alexandria, Virginia belonging to his consulting firm, Davis Manafort Partners, Inc.
- The third opposed Manafort’s motion to suppress evidence obtained following a predawn raid on his home in Alexandria last July.
Among other things, prosecutors revealed the following in the new filings:
- There are potentially three other categories of unknown criminal allegations against Manafort.
- Manafort interviewed with the FBI twice before he joined the Trump campaign.
- FBI agents who raided Manafort’s home in July 2017 were looking for records related to the June 2016 meeting between three Trump campaign officials, including Manafort, and Russian lobbyists offering dirt on then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
- Mueller has reviewed details of Manafort’s relationship with the Russian-Ukrainian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
- Contrary to media reports, Mueller’s office did not use a “no-knock” warrant to raid Manafort’s home.
What Manafort’s lawyers are trying to argue
Manafort’s lawyers have mounted an aggressive defense against prosecutors in recent months.
Their strategy centers around establishing two things: that deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein gave Mueller an improper and overly broad mandate when he appointed him special counsel, and that Mueller overstepped his mandate by charging Manafort with crimes unrelated to Russian collusion.
In particular, Manafort’s attorneys point to an August 2017 memo that Rosenstein sent to Mueller as evidence that Rosenstein “got something wrong” when he initially tapped Mueller to oversee the Russia probe.
Rosenstein appointed Mueller special counsel in May 2017. Almost three months later, he sent a memo to Mueller authorizing him to investigate specific allegations related to Manafort, including but not limited to his Ukraine lobbying work and possible collusion with Russia.
Manafort’s main defense lawyer, Kevin Downing, suggested last week that Rosenstein sent the memo three months after appointing Mueller because he had failed to properly outline the scope of Mueller’s mandate at the time of his appointment, as Justice Department regulations require.
The search of Manafort’s storage locker was conducted on May 27, 2017, 10 days after Mueller was appointed. The FBI’s predawn raid on his home was executed on July 26, 2017, one week before Rosenstein sent Mueller the memo going over his mandate.
US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson hinted that the searches of Manafort’s home and storage locker may be subject to challenge if Mueller was not properly appointed at the time they were executed.
Unknown criminal allegations against Manafort
Manafort’s attorneys contend that the materials seized from the FBI’s predawn raid on his home last July violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.
They also accuse prosecutors of seizing materials that fell outside the scope of the warrant authorizing the search.
In defending the raid, Mueller’s team said the warrant and the subsequent search and seizure were supported by a 41-page affidavit describing “potential violations of approximately 10 criminal statutes arising from three sets of activities.”
The court document goes specifics about the three allegations against Manafort contained in the affidavit, but almost all the details are redacted.
Based on Rosenstein’s memo, Mueller is authorized to investigate at least two threads as it relates to Manafort: allegations of criminal activity arising from his work in Ukraine, and allegations that he colluded with Russian officials as the Kremlin was trying to meddle in the 2016 US election.
The memo contained several other details about possible allegations that lay within Mueller’s scope, but they were redacted, too.
Manafort spoke to FBI agents on 2 separate occasions before joining the Trump campaign
According to the court filings, the FBI interviewed Manafort on two separate occasions before he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016.
The first time he interviewed with investigators was in March 2013 and the second was in July 2014.
Manafort’s longtime associate and the former deputy chairman of the Trump campaign, Rick Gates, also interviewed with the FBI in July 2014.
Gates pleaded guilty in February to two counts of conspiracy and making false statements and is now cooperating with investigators.
When Trump first hired Manafort and Gates in March 2016, Manafort was known for having worked as a top consultant to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and is widely credited with helping him win the election in 2010.
Yanukovych, a strongman and a prominent figure in the Party of Regions, was ousted from the presidency in 2014 amid widespread protests against his Russia-friendly positions and his decision to back out of a deal that would have promoted closer ties between Ukraine and the West, and distanced it from Russia.
Meanwhile, last July, The New York Times reported financial records Manafort filed in Cyprus that showed he was $17 million in debt to pro-Russian interests when he joined the campaign. Shell companies connected to Manafort during his time working for the Party of Regions bought the debt, according to The Times.
Mueller confirms his interest in the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting
When FBI agents raided Manafort’s home in July 2017, prosecutors said the warrant allowed them to seize records that fell within 11 specific categories.
Among those were “communications, records, documents, and other files involving any of the attendees of the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, as well as Aras and Amin [sic] Agalarov.”
Reports of the meeting first surfaced about three weeks before the raid. Three Trump campaign officials — Manafort, Trump’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr., and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner — attended the meeting with two Russian lobbyists offering damaging information on Clinton.
The British music publicist who coordinated the meeting, Rob Goldstone, pitched it as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” according to emails Trump Jr. posted to Twitter.
Trump Jr. has said the Russian lobbyists did not ultimately provide damaging information about Clinton to the Trump campaign and that the conversation instead revolved around the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that blacklists wealthy Russians suspected of human-rights abuses, and which the Russian government is strongly opposed to.
In addition to the meeting itself, Mueller is interested in Trump’s role in crafting an initially misleading statement that Trump Jr. released in response to reports of the meeting. The events are said to be a central focus in the obstruction-of-justice case Mueller has been building against the president since last year.
Mueller zeroes in on Manafort’s ties to Oleg Deripaska
Prosecutors said in Monday’s court filings that in addition to seizing tens of thousands of records from Manafort’s home last year, they have also reviewed testimony he gave in a civil lawsuit in 2015 about a financial dispute with Deripaska, an aluminum magnate who is closely tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Deripaska’s representatives claimed, in legal complaints filed in the Cayman Islands in 2014, that Manafort had disappeared after Deripaska gave him and Gates $19 million to invest in a failed Ukrainian TV venture in 2007.
Last year, The Washington Post reported that Manafort emailed the former Russian military intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik, beginning in April 2016, offering to give Deripaska “private briefings” about the Trump campaign.
Former intelligence officials told Business Insider that the offer was likely part of Manafort’s effort to resolve his financial dispute with Deripaska.
Manafort and Kilimnik met in May and August during the 2016 campaign.
Manafort said he and Kilimnik discussed the Trump campaign and the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee during the August 2, 2016 meeting. Kilimnik, meanwhile, said they did not discuss the campaign, but talked about “current news” and “unpaid bills.”
Within hours of the meeting, a private jet linked to Deripaska arrived in Newark, New Jersey, which is close to where Manafort and Kilimnik met. It left within 24 hours.
Agents did not use a ‘no-knock’ warrant to raid Manafort’s home
Multiple media reports last year stated that FBI agents used a “no-knock” warrant to while executing the predawn raid of Manafort’s home last July.
But Mueller’s team said in Monday’s filings that their application for a search warrant “had not sought permission to enter without knocking.”
“In issuing the warrant, the magistrate judge authorized the government to execute the warrant any day through August 8, 2017, and to conduct the search ‘in the daytime [from] 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m,'” the document says. “The government complied fully with those date and time conditions, and Manafort does not contend otherwise.”
A possible complication for Mueller
The FBI’s search and seizure of materials from the storage unit belonging to Manafort’s firm is central to his defense.
The legality of the search is focused on the authority of Michael Trusko, a former employee of Manafort’s consulting firm Davis Manafort Partners (DMP), to approve the search.
According to an earlier court filing, an FBI agent first searched the storage locker on May 26, 2017 after obtaining permission to do so from Trusko, described then as a “low-level” DMP employee responsible for carrying out administrative functions.
The FBI agent then “observed a number of boxes and a filing cabinet” and “some writing on the sides of some boxes,” the document says. The agent returned on May 27 with a search warrant relying on information he had surmised when he visited the storage locker the day before and subsequently seized documents and binders from the property.
Manafort’s attorneys argue the evidence in question should not be used in court because the initial search was conducted without a warrant. They have also argued that the warrant itself was too broad and amounted to a carte blanche in violation of Manafort’s Fourth Amendment rights.
But Mueller’s team contends the search was lawful because Trusko signed the lease for the storage unit and had a key for the locker.
“The employee thus had common authority to consent or, at a minimum, apparent authority to do so,” Mueller’s team said in the earlier court filing. “Manafort ‘assumed the risk that [the Employee] would’ use the key he possessed to ‘permit outsiders (including the police) into the’ unit.”
Prosecutors also argued that even if the FBI agent’s initial visit to the storage locker was illegal, the May 27 search was legal because the FBI already had enough evidence, without the initial viewing, to support its application for a warrant.