Feds Urge Judge to Green-Light Manafort Evidence

WASHINGTON (CN) – As reports of a plea deal swirl, the government pushed ahead Wednesday with preparations for the second trial of President Donald Trump’s convicted former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Manafort previously objected to some of the thousands of exhibits the government plans to introduce at trial later this month, and prosecutor Andrew Weissmann filed a response to those objections late Wednesday morning.

Wednesday had been previously set as the day for a pretrial conference in the case, but that hearing was abruptly rescheduled.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson did not cite any reason for postponing the hearing to Friday, but the Washington Post reported Tuesday that Manafort is in talks with special counsel Robert Mueller to avoid a second trial.

The story cites two people familiar with the discussions, who cautioned that the talks might not result in a deal.

After being convicted of financial crimes by a jury in the Eastern District of Virginia last month, Manafort faces a second criminal trial for his failure to register as a foreign agent for that lobbying work.

The trial is set to begin on Sept. 24, and Manafort has pleaded not guilty. The lobbyist’s objections to more than 1,000 exhibits proposed by the government cover financial records, memos and emails expected to help the government prove that Manafort lobbied of U.S. officials on behalf of the pro-Kremlin Party of Regions in Ukraine.

Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann with the special counsel’s office said in a trial brief Wednesday they are unable to respond with specificity to Manafort’s objections to the proposed exhibits. Earlier this month, Manafort cited only relevance, hearsay, authentication and whether some of the proposed stipulations were properly summarized in his objections.

Prosecutors say Manafort objected to the relevance of phone records, emails, memos and pictures concerning “his expenditures from unreported and untaxed income.”

But Weissmann said some of those records relate directly to the obstruction-of-justice charges against Manafort, which were brought in a superseding indictment in June after the grand jury found probable cause that he tampered with two of the government’s witnesses.

“These records are direct evidence of Manafort’s obstruction of justice and there can be little question as to their relevance,” the trial brief says.

Prosecutors say the witnesses acted as intermediaries between Manafort, his Russian right-hand man Konstantin Kilimnik and a collection of former senior European officials known as the Hapsburg Group, who lobbied secretly for Ukraine in the United States.

Though Russian-born Kilimnik was indicted alongside Manafort for conspiring to obstruct justice and obstructing justice, he has not yet appeared in court.

Manafort also objected to the admission of several memos he produced for Rinat Akhmetov, whom the brief describes as an oligarch and prominent businessman in Ukraine. Akhmetov, the brief says, first approached Manafort about working on behalf of the Party of Regions and was among one of the party’s key supporters and financiers.

The memos, entitled “Evolution of US Policy to Ukraine” and “Major Development in US Government Position on Ukraine Re-privatization,” will show an established relationship between Manafort and Akhmetov, which dates back to 2005, the brief says.

Weissmann says other exhibits to which Manafort has objected relate to the money laundering and tax charges that because he paid U.S. vendors using some of funds that he did not declare on his tax returns and which he funneled through offshore accounts.

After asserting that he wanted to keep the discussion of vendor payments to a minimum, Weissmann also noted that spending on a lavish lifestyle pertains to Manafort’s “intent and motive and is not unduly prejudicial,” and will help the government tell a “comprehensible story” to the jury.

Another item that Manafort wants suppressed is an email where he told former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich that he is “‘managing’ a public and government relations program for Yanukovich that Manafort ‘created and paid for [him]self.'”

“In other memoranda, Manafort made clear to Yanukovich that he was directing the work of the Hapsburg Group and U.S.-based consultants, who were engaging in government relations and public relations campaigns for Yanukovich,” Weissmann’s brief continues.

Weissmann says Manafort often conveyed instructions through documents passed along by his former business associate and onetime co-defendant Rick Gates.

Gates pleaded guilty to one count of lying to federal agents and one count of conspiracy back in February and has cooperated with prosecutors since, having testified against Manafort in the Virginia trial last month.

According to Weissmann’s brief, some of the statements Manafort wants suppressed will show that he “conspired with, among others, Richard Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik as to various charged crimes, and the government will establish the existence of these conspiracies at trial.”

Jury selection in Manafort’s second criminal trial in Washington, D.C., is scheduled to begin on Monday, with opening arguments slated for Sept. 24.

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