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Mueller's Office Opposes Hearing On Leaks

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Robert Mueller is pictured. | Getty Images

Robert Mueller’s team is urging a federal judge in Virginia to turn down a request from Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, to hold a hearing in which witnesses could be summoned to testify about the alleged leaks. | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Mueller's office opposes hearing on leaks

By JOSH GERSTEIN

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A series of anonymously sourced news accounts about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation don’t amount to evidence of illegal grand jury leaks and could have come from defense attorneys or others outside the investigation, prosecutors said in a court filing on Monday.

Mueller’s team is also urging a federal judge in Virginia to turn down a request from Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, to hold a hearing in which witnesses could be summoned to testify about the alleged leaks.

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“Manafort’s speculative claim of improper conduct falls far short of the showing necessary to warrant a hearing on potential violations of [a grand jury secrecy rule] or of his constitutional rights,” prosecutors wrote. “A pretrial hearing on alleged government leaks, which would itself generate publicity on the very matters that Manafort finds prejudicial, is unwarranted.”

Manafort, who is facing separate criminal cases brought by Mueller in federal court in Washington and Alexandria, Virginia, >filed a motion late last month complaining that he was unfairly attacked in a flurry of news reports that appeared to be based on illegal leaks of grand jury secrets and classified information.

In the motion, filed with U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III, Manafort’s defense said the release of sensitive details about the investigation threatened his ability to get a fair trial.

“By their actions, it is self-evident that the objective of these government sources was to create unfair prejudice against Mr. Manafort and thereby deprive him of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights,” attorneys Kevin Downing and Thomas Zehnle wrote. “The government’s investigation, and the criminal charges that ultimately resulted from it, are the epitome of a party seeking to decide a case in the press and not the courtroom.”

Regardless of the legal merits of Manafort’s motion, his lawyers’ effort to raise the leaks issue could bolster his chances of winning a pardon from President Donald Trump, who has railed against leaks he alleges have emerged from the Mueller investigation.

Mueller’s team said in >a response to Manafort on Monday that there was no reason to believe the news accounts that Manafort’s defense identified were the product of prosecutors or investigators leaking information that came from a grand jury.

“He cites ten articles, none of which purports to disclose grand jury information,” prosecutors wrote. “Many of the matters reported, if accurate, would have been known to the defense, to witnesses who were interviewed or subpoenaed for documents, or to other investigators examining overlapping issues.”

Prosecutors also suggest that some of those leaking about Manafort could be members of Congress or their aides.

“Multiple accounts note that Manafort was also the subject of ongoing congressional investigations,” Mueller’s team noted. “References to ‘officials’ or ‘American officials’ in the reports … could thus be to people who are not subject to [grand jury secrecy] restrictions.”

Prosecutors suggested that if a hearing was held on the leaks, it would be fair game to look into whether any of them originated with Manafort’s attorneys or his spokesman Jason Maloni. Maloni wasn’t named in the filing, but was identified as “the spokesman who has regularly accompanied Manafort to court and has often been quoted, including in some of Manafort’s cited articles.”

Mueller’s team also submitted a secret filing to Ellis “concerning one article.” Prosecutors did not say which article it was about or why the information needed to be placed under seal and withheld from Manafort’s defense.

Prosecutors pointed Ellis to his own ruling from 2007 denying a hearing on leaks in a case involving two pro-Israel lobbyists accused of trafficking in classified information. In that case, the judge said the text of the news stories didn’t make a “prima facie” case of grand jury leaks.

The case Manafort faces in Virginia, set for trial on July 10, includes charges of tax evasion, bank fraud and failing to file reports on foreign bank accounts. The Washington-based case, scheduled for trial on Sept. 17, focuses on allegations of money laundering and of failing to register as a foreign agent in connection with Manafort’s work related to Ukraine.

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