Robert Mueller speaks during an event in Washington, D.C. (Photographer: Dennis Brack/Bloomberg News)

Mueller Denies Manafort Claims of Secret Grand Jury Leaks

(Bloomberg) -- Special Counsel Robert Mueller urged a federal judge to reject a request by Paul Manafort, the indicted former Trump campaign chairman, for a hearing to determine whether government officials improperly leaked secret grand-jury information to the news media.

U.S. prosecutors said in a filing on Monday that defense attorneys had failed to provide evidence that news reports about Mueller’s investigation of Manafort were based on matters before a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, that indicted him in February on tax- and bank-fraud charges.

Manafort had asked the judge to identify and punish government officials who allegedly disclosed secret information that appeared in reports by the Associated Press, the New York Times, CNN, NBC News and BuzzFeed. Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, called Manafort’s claims “speculative” and said Manafort had failed to meet the standard for a hearing.

“A pretrial hearing on alleged government leaks, which would itself generate publicity on the very matters that Manafort finds prejudicial, is unwarranted,” prosecutors said in the filing in federal court in Alexandria. In such a high-profile case, a hearing only “risks putting allegedly prejudicial stories back on the front page,” they wrote.

Juror Vetting

Still, prosecutors said they gave the judge a secret filing with additional information about one of the 10 articles cited by Manafort. While they urged U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III to forgo a hearing, they also said that courts have ruled that testimony by prosecutors should be avoided, if possible. Instead of a hearing, they said, the judge should carefully question potential jurors before the trial to eliminate any potential harm to Manafort.

Manafort had said that leakers subjected him to “a torrent of negative and apparently false press generated by numerous unlawful disclosures,” according to a May 1 filing. “These government-sourced disclosures have violated the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, internal government policies and procedures, federal statutes and Mr. Manafort’s constitutional rights.”

President Donald Trump, Republican leaders and conservative media have repeatedly criticized former FBI Director James Comey and his ex-deputy, Andrew McCabe, for leaks and their conduct during the Russia investigation. Ellis has scheduled a May 25 hearing to consider Manafort’s motions. Manafort’s trial is set for July 10.

Virginia Raid

Manafort, 69, also faces a federal indictment in Washington over allegations of money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent for his political consulting in Ukraine. His longtime associate, Rick Gates, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.

In another filing on Monday, Mueller urged the judge to reject Manafort’s request to suppress evidence gathered by the FBI during a raid on his home in Alexandria, Virginia, on July 25, 2017. Manafort argued that a 41-page warrant affidavit allowed an overly broad search of his electronic devices.

Prosecutors said they copied Manafort’s devices and left him the originals, used a filter team to avoid seizing material protected by attorney-client privilege and returned evidence to him that it considered irrelevant. The affidavit satisfied the legal requirements for detail and a showing of probable cause, according to prosecutors.

Mueller’s team also answered the defense’s contention that an FBI search of a storage unit in Alexandria violated Manafort’s constitutional rights to be free from illegal search and seizure.

Defense lawyer Kevin Downing, reprising arguments he also made in the Washington case, contends federal agents initially obtained access to the unit from a low level employee of a Manafort business who wasn’t authorized to give them permission to look inside the unit. After that first glimpse, the agents obtained a warrant to search a filing cabinet and boxes. They returned the next day and removed documents from them. Downing also said the warrant’s search parameters were impermissibly broad.

Reiterating arguments they’d also made to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, prosecutors said the storage unit lease was in the employee’s name, that he had its key and gave written consent, acknowledging his right to say no. All of those circumstances were disclosed to the magistrate judge who issued the warrant, according to Mueller’s team.

Jackson has not yet ruled on that or other defense requests to suppress evidence before her. The Washington trial is set for Sept. 17.

The cases are U.S. v. Manafort, 18-cr-83, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria), and U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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