Special counsel reveals potential witnesses in Manafort trial
The special counsel’s office for the first time Wednesday revealed some of the witnesses it may put on the stand against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as prosecutors and Manafort’s team argued several legal questions in advance of his trial this September.
The prosecutors’ office said they intend to call to testify Melissa Laurenza, a private attorney who helped Manafort and his longtime deputy Rick Gates file allegedly misleading foreign lobbying registrations with the Justice Department, as well as individuals from companies Manafort worked with.
“We expect her to testify,” prosecutor Greg Andres told Judge Amy Berman Jackson about Laurenza in court.
It was the also first time prosecutors named Laurenza publicly, though it’s been widely known her statements were used to build the case against Manafort. The district’s chief judge forced Laurenza to testify before the grand jury last year about Manafort’s and Gates’ federal lobbying submissions. A spokesman for the law firm where Laurenza works did not immediately reply to a request for comment Wednesday.
Andres said prosecutors have not told Manafort’s legal team whom else they may call for the trial. But the other witnesses likely will include people who worked for the now-defunct lobbying firm Podesta Group, the consulting firm Mercury Public Affairs and a public relations firm secretly hired to help roll-out a report on Ukrainian politicians prepared by the law firm Skadden Arps as a supposedly independent analysis.
Andres told the judge prosecutors hadn’t named the people in the three companies identified in Manafort’s indictment because “they would in effect be given a premature list” of the government’s witnesses for the trial.
It’s not clear if the witnesses will also be part of Manafort’s scheduled trial in July in Virginia, which centers around criminal banking allegations.
Other than the witness revelations, Manafort’s court hearing Wednesday largely addressed procedural questions about whether Mueller’s team of FBI agents and prosecutors properly secured search warrants for his Alexandria apartment and storage unit last year.
Manafort has charged that an FBI agent had no right to look around the storage unit after an employee of Manafort’s — who had a key and whose name was on the unit’s lease agreement — let him in. The prosecutors then went to a judge in Virginia, who approved them to seize business records in the unit.
Investigators should have asked the employee more questions about his relationship to Manafort and the storage unit before letting them in, Manafort’s attorney Thomas Zehnle said in court.
“What they’re saying is the lease and the key are the beginning and end of the story,” Berman Jackson said to Zehnle.
But the employee had told the agents he had only entered the unit previously at the direction of Manafort, Zehnle argued, making the storage unit not property under his control.
If Berman Jackson were to throw out the evidence collected in the storage unit search, prosecutors wouldn’t be able to use those records at trial.
Manafort has also alleged that the search warrants, which were approved by a Virginia court, were too broad. “A warrant that says you can take anything is no warrant at all,” another Manafort attorney, Richard Westling, told the judge.
Berman Jackson pressed both sides largely on questions of case law and appeared somewhat skeptical about Manafort’s arguments that evidence should be purged before the trial.
Manafort has also asked the Virginia judge, T.S. Ellis, to weigh in on the question of whether the searches were legal.