Special Counsel Robert Mueller is urging 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.
And Monday, US prosecutors stated in a filing, 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.
Recently, 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. But Mueller called Manafort’s claims “speculative” and said Manafort had failed to meet the standard for a hearing.
Prosecutors say that a pretrial hearing on alleged government leaks, which would itself generate publicity on the very matters that Manafort finds prejudicial, is unwarranted.
They added that such a high-profile case, a hearing only “risks putting allegedly prejudicial stories back on the front page.
But 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 forego a hearing, they also said that courts have rules 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 argues that leakers subjected him to “a torrent of negative and apparently false press generated by numerous unlawful disclosures,” according to a May 1 filing.
His request that Ellis hold a hearing comes as 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.
And all of this has nothing to do with Russian collusion during the 2016 campaign. In fact, prosecutors are going back many years, with 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.
But Mueller fired back Monday and 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 claim to have 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.