Mueller Pushes to Uncover Manafort Talks With Lawyer

WASHINGTON (CN) – Prosecutors want to review emails that Paul Manafort exchanged with one his attorneys, a motion unsealed Wednesday with heavy redactions shows.

Though attorney-client privilege would ordinarily protect such communications, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ruled last year that privilege doesn’t apply to the communications where Manafort “likely violated federal law by making, or conspiring to make materially false statements and misleading omissions in FARA submissions.”

FARA is short for the Foreign Agent Registration Act, a law that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has accused Manafort of violating by secretly lobbying U.S. officials on behalf of a pro-Russia political party in the Ukraine.

The lobbying occurred from 2007 to 2015, before Manafort signed on to chair the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump, whose election Russia sought to secure.

Reiterating Judge Howell’s ruling from October 2017, prosecutors noted in a motion that has been under seal since its filing on Aug. 15 that Manafort waived privilege to his communications by soliciting an attorney’s assistance in committing a crime.

Mueller’s team also said that privilege should be waived since the communications were not confidential but rather government filings that would have some level of public disclosure.

“In such cases, both the information that the client expected the lawyer to reveal and ‘the details underlying’ it are subject to disclosure,” the motion says.

Mueller’s team wants to review four documents, all of which were among materials seized from Rackspace Inc. during the execution of a search warrant in the Southern District of New York associated with one of Manafort’s email addresses.

Prior to turning the material over to Mueller’s team, a group of attorneys known as a taint team screened for privileged communications.

The communications at issue were apparently given to Manafort and separated from the rest of the material now in the hands of investigators.

It’s unclear what the communications say since that part of the motion is redacted.

According to the motion, Manafort did not respond to an inquiry from the taint team about whether he would assert privilege over the communications but later asserted privilege over all of his communications with the witness.

The attorney is not named in the motion but Akin Gump attorney Melissa Laurenza is identified in an April 3 letter attached as an exhibit to a government motion filed Monday in support of allowing prosecutors to view the communications.

Laurenza is among the witnesses whom prosecutors say they might call during Manafort’s upcoming criminal trial in Washington, D.C.

Laurenza reportedly helped Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates submit foreign lobbying paperwork to the Justice Department that prosecutors say was misleading.

According to that motion, Manafort objects to prosecutors getting a hold of the communications on the basis that he did not participate in the hearing before Howell. Manafort also says he can’t determine whether Howell correctly ruled that the communications aren’t privileged.

But an Aug. 27 reply signed by prosecutor Elizabeth Aloi says Manafort received a transcript of the hearing with limited redactions, and declined an invitation to participate in the proceedings.

The exhibit that names Laurenza is apparently intended to show that Manafort received the transcript.

Manafort’s defense team also sought grand jury testimony from Laurenza but the letter indicates that as of its writing, she had not testified before the grand jury. She has, however, twice been interviewed by Mueller’s team.

According to the Aug. 15 motion, the special counsel’s office could seek testimony from the witness about Manafort’s foreign agent filings, “including what the Witness was told about ‘the specific factual representations alleged to be false or misleading in Mr. Manafort’s November 23, 2016 and February 10, 2017 FARA Submissions.'”

Howell ruled last year that prosecutors could compel testimony from the witness about those submissions.

Prosecutors have charged Manafort and Gates with making false statements to the Justice Department in those filings and with failing to register as foreign agents for lobbying work they did on behalf of the pro-Kremlin Party of Regions and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Though Gates has since pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of lying to federal agents and is now a cooperating witness in Mueller’s investigation, Manafort is set to go to trial again next month after having been convicted of related financial crimes in Virginia last week.

Both the special counsel’s office and Manafort’s spokesman Jason Maloni declined to comment.

Laurenza has not returned a request for comment.

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