Paul Manafort asks judge to dismiss criminal charges against him

Paul Manafort has asked a federal judge in DC to dismiss the five criminal charges against him, arguing that special counsel Robert Mueller had no right to indict him for work done before he joined the Trump campaign as chairman in 2016.

“Those issues simply have no connection to the alleged coordination with the Russian government or the 2016 presidential election,” Manafort’s lawyer wrote in a motion to dismiss the case filed Wednesday. Though Manafort’s team acknowledged that the Justice Department had told Mueller to prosecute any criminal action he discovers while investigating possible Russian collusion, “It is a blank check the special counsel has cashed, repeatedly,” Manafort’s filing said.

Manafort then asked the court on Wednesday to throw out a conspiracy money laundering charge he faces, as well as the government’s request for him to forfeit assets and property. He argues that even if he failed to register to lobby in the US for foreign governments, he didn’t make his consulting income illegally. Foreign lobbying registration violations compose most of his DC criminal indictment — though allegations that he laundered money through foreign bank accounts to avoid paying taxes are part of a separate case he faces from Mueller in Virginia.

He also asked the court to dismiss one of two charges he faces alleging he made false statements in registering his foreign lobbying work, because they are duplicative, he said. He currently faces five criminal counts in the case, so if the judge agreed to these additional requests, his charges would be cut down to three.

The arguments outlined Wednesday to throw out the entire case largely track with an earlier lawsuit Manafort filed against Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the Justice Department, for going outside the scope of the special counsel’s authority. A hearing in that case, before the same judge overseeing Manafort’s criminal case, is set for April 4.

Manafort’s filing on Wednesday, though a common procedural step in a case like this, indicates the former Trump campaign adviser plans to remain at odds with prosecutors. He has maintained his innocence since he was first charged in late October alongside his deputy Rick Gates, who has since pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge related to his work for Manafort and to lying to investigators.

Gates also agreed to help Mueller’s prosecutors as needed.

The charges Manafort faces involve an alleged scheme of shell companies and offshore bank accounts used to hide his earnings from his lobbying work for Ukrainian politicians, which he allegedly did for years before he joined the Trump campaign. He then allegedly used those earnings to obtain mortgages and buy home renovations and luxury goods. Manafort contends the Ukrainian work “has no connection to either the Russian government or the 2016 election,” Wednesday’s filing said.

Following Gates’ decision to flip on his longtime business partner, prosecutors have doubled down the pressure on Manafort.

Last month, they loaded an additional 18 criminal charges onto Manafort that could send him to a 305-year maximum prison sentence if he is found guilty. Those charges are related to alleged federal bank fraud and tax crimes in Virginia, and they were levied in addition to the charges he faces in federal court in DC.

The DC charges currently carry a likely 15- to 20-year sentence for the 68-year-old man. Manafort’s trials before juries are set to begin in July and September.

If Manafort were to plead guilty and avoid the trials, he could be forced by Mueller’s prosecutors to share details he knows about Trump campaign officials’ contact with Russians and other foreign nationals. Manafort for decades had conducted business built upon his relationships with Russian-sympathetic Ukrainians and other powerful European former politicians, and he had been in contact with them while leading the Trump campaign.

New lawyer

Also on Wednesday, Manafort added a third lawyer to his trial team in DC. Richard Westling, a health care industry and tax litigator, told the court he would join the defense team. Westling previously represented a former Louisiana governor in a civil forfeiture proceeding, according to his law firm biography. He also represented US District Judge Thomas Porteous in his congressional impeachment proceeding in 2010. Porteous was ultimately removed from the bench.

GPS ankle monitors

As for Gates, a federal judge told him he would have to continue wearing his GPS ankle monitor, a provision the court put in place after his October arrest to make sure he doesn’t flee.

“The change of his plea from not guilty to guilty has turned the prospect that he could be sentenced by a court into a certainty that he will,” Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote Wednesday in a new order. That means he has a “higher threshold for release pending sentencing,” she wrote, compared with the bail conditions he was under as he awaited a trial. Jackson also noted that Gates’ “change of heart is quite recent.”

Gates requested in late February, a few days after he pleaded guilty, to lose the GPS monitor and for the judge to allow him to travel more freely between his Richmond, Virginia, home and Washington because cooperating with the special counsel requires him to travel “often on short notice.” He does not have to tell the judge in advance if he wants to travel to DC, Jackson said. He does have to keep his pretrial monitoring officers abreast a day or two ahead of any travel plans he has to come to DC, either to meet with investigators or for other matters.

Gates’ sentencing date has not yet been set.

Manafort hasn’t been able to convince the judge in DC to relax his home arrest by approving assets that would secure his $10 million bail there. Because of the DC and Virginia federal judges’ bail conditions combined, Manafort is essentially on lockdown in his apartment in Alexandria, and would owe $10 million in each court if he fled.

Mueller’s prosecutors continue to claim Manafort is a flight risk, and both judges have agreed.

Manafort currently wears two GPS monitors so that both the DC and Virginia federal courts can keep track of his movements.