Leak allegations won’t get Manafort’s case tossed: judge

SHARE Leak allegations won’t get Manafort’s case tossed: judge

A federal judge in Virginia said on June 29, 2018 he won’t dismiss bank fraud and tax evasion charges against President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, based on allegations of leaks to the press. | AP file photo

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A federal judge in Virginia said Friday he won’t dismiss bank fraud and tax evasion charges against President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman based on allegations of leaks to the press.

Lawyers for Paul Manafort — whose trial is due to start in late July — said they may ask for his trial to be moved to another city after U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III made clear he wouldn’t throw out the case.

The effort by Manafort’s attorneys comes after a series of setbacks in their attempts to have felony charges against him thrown out by two different judges.

Manafort is charged in Virginia with hiding tens of millions of dollars from the IRS that he earned advising pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine. He also faces charges in Washington and has been jailed pending trial.

Manafort’s attorneys had asked the judge to hold a hearing on press leaks, saying they could have prejudiced a jury against him. But Ellis said he wasn’t inclined to do so.

Still, contacts with the media came up in an unrelated matter earlier Friday when FBI special agent Jeff Pfeiffer testified that Justice Department officials met with reporters for The Associated Press in April 2017.

At that meeting, Pfeiffer said, one reporter discussed a storage unit kept by Manafort, which was later raided by federal agents.

In a statement, AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton said that AP journalists “met with representatives from the Department of Justice in an effort to get information on stories they were reporting, as reporters do. During the course of the meeting, they asked DOJ representatives about a storage locker belonging to Paul Manafort, without sharing its name or location.”

The meeting came about a month before the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

That investigation has led to the prosecution of Manafort on several financial charges, as well as allegations that he acted as an unregistered foreign agent on behalf of Ukrainian interests.

It’s unclear whether the meeting Pfeiffer referenced was the first time that the Justice Department officials learned about the storage unit. During his testimony, Pfeiffer said he learned of the unit either through his investigative efforts or through a meeting with the AP.

The agent testified that he had taken the meeting with the reporters with the expectation of receiving information, noting throughout the meeting Justice Department officials “generally” declined to answer the reporters’ questions or comment.

Under questioning from Manafort attorney Thomas Zehnle, Pfeiffer was asked about notes taken by officials in the room and turned over to Manafort’s defense Friday by the special counsel’s office.

According to portions of the notes read in court, one official said that the AP reporters asked if they were “off base” in their reporting. One official responded that the reporters “appeared to have a good understanding of Manafort’s business dealings.”

Asked who was in the room, Pfeiffer said he didn’t recall the names of the reporters but listed the names of FBI agents and Justice Department officials, including Andrew Weissmann, who at the time headed the Justice Department’s fraud section. Weissmann later joined Mueller’s team and is one of the lead attorneys prosecuting Manafort.

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