ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – In a series of motions filed Monday night, an attorney for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort argue that media reports featuring leaks from anonymous government officials have spoiled his chances at a fair trial and violated his constitutional rights.
Over eight separate filings, Manafort lead attorney Kevin Downing requests U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III consider the leak-based reports cause to invalidate indictments secured by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
According to Downing, Manafort has been “the target of an apparent leak campaign conducted by numerous unidentified government officials” and these “improper disclosures of confidential grand jury information and potentially classified materials” has violated his client’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to due process and an impartial trial.
Downing says current and former government and law enforcement officials have intentionally provided false information to the press, “knowing that the information would be widely reported and that the disclosures would prejudice Manafort in his efforts to defend himself.”
Given the “intense” attention on his case, Manafort’s been on the receiving end of “a torrent of negative and apparently false” press generated by “unlawful disclosures” made by the leakers.
“Although the exact persons are not yet known, they must be identified,” Downing said.
Downing also points to former FBI directors James Comey and Andrew McCabe as individuals responsible for “leaking information to the press.”
Among the reports specifically cited by Downing are an October 2016 NBC News story suggesting the FBI had conducted a preliminary inquiry into Manafort’s foreign business connections, and a February 2017 report in The New York Times in which anonymous officials claimed multiple phone records between members of the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials were intercepted and cataloged by the NSA before the election.
“After that, the FBI asked the NSA to collect as much information as possible about Russian operatives on the phone calls and to search through troves of previously intercepted communications that had not been analyzed,” Downing says.
He also takes aim at multiple 2017 reports by the Associated Press and a February 2018 broadcast by CNN in which participants discussed the then-imminent plea deal reached with former Manafort business partner Rick Gates.
“The reporters [in the CNN report] point out that Gates’ lawyers did not respond to requests for comments and Manafort, of course, was certainly not privy to plea negotiations between Gates and the Special Counsel or his Office’s inner workings,” Downing says. “The only reasonable inference is that the source of the disclosure was from government officials who had knowledge about the status of the investigation.”
Downing says he has requested the purported evidence unpinning many of these reports from the special counsel’s team, but has repeatedly been told no such evidence exists.
“The natural implication … is that these government leaks were intentionally designed to create a false narrative in order to garner support for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Manafort for purportedly coordinating with Russian intelligence/government officials despite the lack of any such evidence,” Downing says.
“In many instances, no effort whatsoever is made to hide the fact that the leakers are government officials or agents with direct knowledge of the investigation,” the motion continues. “In other cases, the reports state the sources are not authorized to discuss the matter or that anonymity is required because the continuing investigation is classified.”
Downing argues this is proof enough that leakers knew they were subject to grand jury secrecy rules but “nevertheless chose to disclose the information.”
“Any other interpretation is implausible,” he says.
Downing maintains that a warrantless search of the storage unit conducted a day before a valid warrant was issued was “end-run around the Fourth Amendment.
And he contends the warrant secured for a May 27, 2017, search was “fundamentally flawed” because the FBI knew that its initial entry into the unit would not pass legal muster.
As for the raid on his Alexandria, Virginia home, Downing says when agents seized electronic devices like external hard drives, SD cards, iPods, laptops and more, it was overreach.
The warrant directed the seizure of “any and all” financial records in the home, including those belonging to Manafort’s wife, Kathleen, son Paul Manafort Jr., and former business partner Richard Gates.
The warrant also gave agents permission to gather “evidence indicating Manafort’s state of mind as it relates to crimes under the investigation.”
But this directive imposed no restriction at all and now Special Counsel has held the evidence for too long, Downing says, noting that once review of the raided materials is complete, all should go back to Manafort.
Downing says in deciding the merits of the motions, Ellis should rely on the precedent set in United States v. Debbi, out of the Southern District of New York.
In that case a federal judge ruled that in executing a search warrant, the government failed to separate seized documents that fell within the scope of its warrants from those that fell outside of it.
The court ultimately suppressed all seized materials not yet determined to be within the scope of the issued warrant.
“The result should be no different here,” Downing says.