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Friends of Paul Manafort launch legal defense fund, citing expense of fighting Mueller prosecution

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort arrives at a federal courthouse in Washington on Nov. 2. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Friends of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort have launched a legal-defense fund to defray his attorney fees as he fights tax fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering charges filed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

In a statement released Wednesday, unnamed friends of the longtime lobbyist said the Paul Manafort Defense Fund was created because Manafort and his family are “struggling to pay legal bills” arising from his prosecution in the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Manafort, 69, faces two upcoming trials — onein Virginia in July and anotherin Washington in September — on felony counts related to his decade-long work for a pro-Russian politician and entities in Ukraine. He has pleaded not guilty.

His longtime aide and co-defendant, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty in February in a cooperation deal with prosecutors from Mueller’s office.

“The Paul Manafort Defense Fund was established to support the Manafort family as they battle false allegations, government leaks and smear campaigns related to the proceedings brought against him by the Office of Special Counsel,” the fund announced in a statement. “The Defense Fund is urging anyone who values civil liberties and wishes to show the ‘Deep State’ that they cannot exert their will on ordinary citizens to join them in supporting the Manafort family.”

A person familiar with Manafort’s situation confirmed that the fund is legitimate.

However, it is unclear who organized the effort. The fund’s website — which promises to maintain the “strict confidentiality” of those who donate — does not list its trustees. The site was registered Dec. 27 and updated Feb. 25, days after Manafort was hit with new indictments in Virginia and the District, Internet registration records show. The name on the initial site registration was Bruce E. Baldinger, records show. Baldinger is a New Jersey real estate attorney who has worked with Manafort over several years. Baldinger was the attorney for Manafort’s $3 million purchase of a brownstone at 377 Union Street in Brooklyn, property records show, and was also listed in connection with a $5.3 million mortgage loan issued to Manafort and his wife in January 2017 by the Federal Savings Bank of Chicago, a transaction cited in Manafort’s February indictment in Virginia.

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Baldinger also has represented Manafort’s former son-in-law Jeffrey Yohai in a California real estate dispute, court records show.

Calls and emails to Baldinger’s law firm and to an email address listed on Wednesday’s statement announcing the legal fund were not returned.

Baldinger was reprimanded by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2008 for violating attorney conflict-of-interest rules and again in 2013 by a New York court for not reporting the disciplinary incident, according to orders by the courts. Baldinger’s attorney in the 2013 case did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment on the fund, as did Mueller’s office.

Manafort and his attorneys are under a gag order in his criminal case pending in the District but have noted in court that “millions of dollars” of his assets have been made unavailable to him pending a criminal forfeiture charge. He remains under conditional home detention pending agreement on a $10 million bail package.

The website for the new Manafort defense fund includes links to news and opinion articles critical of the Justice Department, the FBI and Mueller.

The site directs donations to a post office box in Clifton, N.J. It states that trustees may reject any donations they deem inappropriate and that “donations from foreign individuals, corporations and entities are subject to public reporting.”

Funds remaining after legal expenses are satisfied will be donated to the American Civil Liberties Union or the Brain Trauma Foundation, the website said.

In February, a separate legal defense fund was launched to help defray costs faced by aides to President Trump drawn into the various Russia investigations as witnesses, but it is not available to those facing criminal indictments.

Meanwhile, the family of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn established the Michael T. Flynn Legal Defense Fund last year, before he pleaded guilty Dec. 1 to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russia’s then-ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the transition. Flynn’s fund accepts donations only from U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Alice Crites contributed to this report.