(CN) – An attorney for Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, said Thursday his client’s work on an op-ed defending his efforts in Ukraine should not stop him from being released from house arrest.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office revealed Monday that Manafort worked on an op-ed with a person with ties to the Russian intelligence service as recently as November 30, and cited that activity as reason for it to pull out of a proposed $11 million bail deal announced only days earlier.
Mueller’s team argues Manafort’s involvement in the writing of the piece violated a previous court order that “all interested participants in the matter, including parties, potential witnesses, and counsel for the parties and the witnesses … to refrain from making statements to the media or in public settings that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case.”
But in a court filing in Washington on Thursday afternoon, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing says his client’s role in editing a draft op-ed intended for publication in the Kyiv Post should not be held against him.
The op-ed’s author is Oleg Voloshyn, a former Ukrainian government official, Downing says. Manafort merely worked on the piece “to ensure its accuracy,” and the column was never intended to be published in the United States, the attorney continues.
“The defense did not, and does not, understand that the Court meant to impose a gag order precluding Mr. Manafort from addressing matters, which do not ‘pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case,'” the filing says.
Prosecutors said Manafort worked on the op-ed for Voloshyn with a third person, a co-ghostwriter who had ties to Russian intelligence. Downing makes no mention of that person in his filing.
“The Special Counsel’s Opposition — devoid as it is of both legal analysis and legal precedents — claims that Mr. Manafort has engaged in wrongdoing when all he has tried to do is to correct the public record in Ukraine concerning his consulting activities in Ukraine,” Downing says.
“In the special counsel’s view, Mr. Manafort is apparently never allowed to set the factual record straight,” Downing continues. “Nor is he allowed to openly maintain his innocence. He must simply remain silent while his reputation is battered, and potential jurors in this district might be tainted.”
Manafort has been confined to his home, wearing a GPS monitor since October 30, and currently would owe $10 million to the court if he fled, though that amount is unsecured by assets and property. The special counsel’s office deems Manafort and his co-defendant, Rick Gates, to be flight risks.
On Nov. 30, Kevin Downing told the court Manafort and Mueller have reached an agreement that would allow his client to travel between New York, Florida, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Under the terms of the deal, Manafort would put up four homes valued at about $11.6 million to guarantee he will continue to show up for court proceedings and not flee the country.
Downing says, “there was no violation of this Court’s Order, and the Office of Special Counsel should be held to its word with respect to the agreed-upon bail package.”
In related action on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson granted a motion by Gates to modify the conditions of his pre-trail confinement so that he can attend a “student-parent work event” and a youth sports event in which a team he coaches is competing.
Judge Jackson ordered Gates to tell the court the precise times and locations of the events by the close of business Friday.
“Defendant’s home confinement otherwise remains in force,” she said.
The government’s response to that motion, filed late Friday afternoon, urged the court to deny Manafort’s bail package because his conduct “undermines trust in his adherence to bail conditions.”
“Manafort cannot bring himself to state that he had a role in drafting the op-ed, although that fact is established by irrefutable evidence,” the response states. “Manafort also alludes briefly to the fact that the op-ed has since been published in the Kyiv Post. Yet he does not deny that his counsel assured the government that the op-ed piece would not run, a representation that was set out in the government’s Dec. 4, 2017, submission to this court.”
The response brief, filed by Andrew Weissmann, was accompanied by a 33-page declaration from FBI special agent Brock Domin containing a draft of the op-ed that Manafort sent in an email to Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the declaration says worked with Manafort in Ukraine.
The draft, which was created on Nov. 29, has numerous track changes made by Manafort.
Domin said the email and document were legally obtained through a court-authorized search warrant.
The declaration also contains an email Voloshyn sent to an undisclosed recipient saying that he had forwarded a draft of the op-ed to Kilimnik “just to verify certain facts.” Kilimnik then forwarded it on to Manafort, Voloshyn said, “just to have a look as his name is mentioned there.”
Voloshyn added: “There was no plot or big scenario behind it. As far as I know Manafort just read it and that’s all. I dare claim Mueller commission deliberately twisted the reality.”
Weissmann’s brief also addresses Downing’s argument that the op-ed published in Kyiv wouldn’t pose material prejudice in the case in Washington.
“Given the significant publicity surrounding this case and the well-established pattern of news outlets and social media (American and otherwise) republishing and commenting on news stories, this is fanciful,” the government’s brief states. “Indeed, Manafort’s submission suggests that reaching Washington, D.C. was the point.”
Courthouse News’ Britain Eakin contributed to this report.