Prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III asked a federal court Monday to reject Paul Manafort’s request for a hearing on what his attorneys contend was a “campaign” of leaks by government officials that began in fall 2016 to discredit him.
Prosecutors said the sampling of press reports cited by Manafort failed to include any sensitive matters before a grand jury specific to his case — disclosure of which would violate federal criminal rules to prevent biasing potential jurors — but instead simply revealed information about a law enforcement investigation.
“The government attorneys and agents involved in this case understand and respect their duty to preserve grand-jury secrecy as required . . . and to avoid public disclosures that could jeopardize a defendant’s right to a fair trial,” prosecutor Andrew Weissmann wrote. He added that Manafort’s “speculative claim” fell far short of warranting a hearing or risking derailing the case.
Manafort faces upcoming criminal trials in Alexandria and in D.C. federal court this year on conspiracy, fraud and tax charges related to his lobbying work for pro-Russian Ukrainian officials in the special counsel’s investigating of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Manafort’s defense on April 30 accused government officials of leaking information, and asked Alexandria U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III to schedule a hearing this month to address their allegations.
“Government officials or agents intentionally provided false information to media outlets, knowing that the information would be widely reported and that the disclosures would unfairly prejudice Mr. Manafort in his efforts to defend himself,” Kevin Downing and Thomas Zehnle wrote.
Manafort’s attorneys said “an investigation could be done expeditiously since congressional committees and the Justice Department have covered similar ground.
In their filing, Downing and Zehnle did not specifically accuse the special counsel’s office of being the source of any leaks, but alleged that some reports that predated Mueller’s appointment last May were part of a “false narrative” to trigger an investigation. They added that later disclosures also were “clearly intended to unfairly prejudice the jury pool” by linking Manafort to Russia.
U.S. prosecutors said the reports cited by Manafort failed to mention any specific grand jury matter, and that Manafort failed to trace any alleged leak as originating from government attorneys or law enforcement officials working on his case, as opposed to other possible sources, such as people familiar with his defense or other suspects.
“The Court should not address the publicity that inevitably accompanies a case of this nature through a hearing of uncertain scope that risks putting allegedly prejudicial stories back on the front page,” Weissmann wrote, saying the court should instead manage potential juror bias through the regular careful vetting of a jury pool.