(Bloomberg) -- Lawyers for Paul Manafort accused prosecutors working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller of smearing their client through unflattering media accounts that originated with illegal grand jury leaks.
The lawyers on Monday urged U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III to hold a hearing focusing in particular on communications involving Andrew Weissmann, one of the Mueller prosecutors, with the Associated Press.
Manafort, a former chairman of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, faces charges of bank and tax fraud in Ellis’ court in Alexandria, Virginia. He has also been indicted by Mueller on charges of money laundering and operating as an unregistered foreign agent of Ukraine in a separate case in Washington.
The filing on Monday cited a report by Sara Carter, a freelance journalist and Fox News contributor, that the Justice Department received an FBI complaint about leaks in the Manafort investigation. His lawyers urged Ellis to determine “if there has been an internal investigation (or investigations) regarding such leaks, or if emails, notes or memoranda exist regarding the same.’’
According to the filing, the meeting with reporters from the Associated Press took place in the spring of last year and was attended by prosecutors, including Weissmann, and FBI agents.
"Not only is leaking classified information a felony, but it was also apparently intended to create the false public narrative that Mr. Manafort was colluding with Russian intelligence officials during the Trump presidential campaign," the defense lawyers said in the filing. "This smear campaign may have in fact irreparably prejudiced the jury pool."
Manafort’s request comes amid mounting criticism by Trump, congressional Republicans and conservative news organizations over the conduct of Mueller’s investigation. The criticisms may find a receptive jurist in Ellis, who used a hearing earlier this month to criticize Mueller’s legal justification for investigating Manafort.
Weissmann has been accused by Trump supporters of bias. They have cited his contributions to Democratic candidates in the past.
Manafort’s lawyers first requested a leak hearing in a May 1 filing. In response, prosecutors denied wrongdoing and said a hearing was not necessary.
A spokesman for Mueller’s office declined to comment.
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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