Search of Manafort Storage Unit Survives Challenge

WASHINGTON (CN) – Federal agents who entered Paul Manafort’s storage unit did not need the former Trump campaign chair’s consent to do so, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

“Law enforcement agents do not need a warrant to enter a location if they have voluntary consent, and they do not need to have the consent of the person under investigation if they receive permission from a third party who has, or who reasonably appears to have, common authority over the place to be searched,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote.

While Manafort did not consent here, an employee of one of his companies did, and this same individual was also named as an occupant for the lease. A day after entering the unit with Alexander Trusko’s permission, the government obtained a warrant to conduct a search.

Trusko gave the FBI permission to enter Manafort’s storage locker on May 26, 2017, telling the agent that Manafort had directed him to move boxes of business records into the unit, along with a heavy metal filing cabinet with more recent office files from Manafort’s business.

Once inside, the agent observed roughly 21 bankers’ boxes and a five-drawer filing cabinet. Because some of the boxes were labeled “Ukraine Binders” and “Tax Returns,” the agent deemed them relevant to the investigation of Manafort.

After the initial inspection, which Jackson said qualified for the consent exception to the warrant requirement, agents obtained a valid search warrant to look inside boxes and drawers inside the unit. Jackson said the initial survey of the unit, even if unlawful, would not invalidate the materials seized during the actual search.

According to the affidavit supporting the search, agents believed Manafort stored relevant records there related to his alleged criminal business activity. Because of that, “the affidavit would still support a finding of probable cause to believe that a crime or crimes had been committed and that records related to those crimes were likely to be found in that unit,” the opinion says.

Jackson also shot down Manafort’s challenge to the breadth of the search warrant, saying that the records it sought relate to specific offenses outlined both in the warrant and the application.

Jackson said “agents relied in good faith” on the warrant, which a magistrate judge signed off on.

“Therefore, the evidence seized during the execution of the warrant should not, and will not, be excluded,” the opinion says.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted Manafort for conspiracy, money laundering, making false statements and failing to register as a foreign agent in relation to lobbying work he did on behalf of the pro-Russia Party of Regions in Ukraine.

Mueller also indicted Manafort on related bank and tax fraud charges in Virginia.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all the charges but is awaiting trial from a jail cell after a grand jury found probable cause last week that he tried to tamper with two potential witnesses in the Washington, D.C., case.

Manafort’s Virginia trial is slated to begin July 25, while the Washington trial will start on Sept. 17.

Thursday’s opinion applies only to Manafort’s Washington case. A similar motion from Manafort is pending in Virginia.

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