Mueller team trying to hide communications with reporters over misleading stories about Manafort

Washington Times:
Special counsel Robert Mueller is trying to head off the Paul Manafort defense team from questioning his prosecutors over press leaks.

Mr. Mueller filed papers in U.S. District Court in Virginia opposing a request from Manafort attorney Kevin Downing to hold an investigative hearing into the rash of press reports on Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager.

Mr. Downing cited 10 stories, sourced to unnamed people who implicated Mr. Manafort in possible criminal activity. He contends the information came from grand jury testimony, which would be illegal for a prosecutor to leak.

In a footnote to his filing, Mr. Mueller’s lead prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, makes a preemptive argument before District Court Judge T. S. Ellis III. If the judge does allow a hearing, Mr. Downing should not be allowed to question special counsel prosecutors or other Justice Department lawyers.

“To the extent Manafort contemplates testimony by Department of Justice attorneys, he would have to overcome the rule that testimony from prosecutors trying criminal cases is ‘disfavored,’” Mr. Weissmann’s brief says, citing previous court rulings.

Mr. Weissmann was in the Justice Department as chief of its fraud division before Mr. Mueller recruited him in May 2017.
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There is an interesting briefing footnote.

Mr. Weissmann says he made a separate private filing with the judge which “provides the court additional information concerning one article.”

Mr. Weissmann does not identify “the one article” out of the 10 stories cited by Mr. Downing.

Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican, and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has asked the Justice Department to provide information on a meeting Mr. Weissmann conducted with news reporters last year when he headed the fraud division.

As one of 10 stories, Mr. Downing cites a February 2017 article by the New York Times which said the U.S. owned a year’s worth of intercepts and phone records between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.

On its face, the article is evidence of collusion. But former FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress that the story was wrong and that he warned senior leaders not to believe it.

The New York Times article said, “The officials said that one of the advisers picked up on the calls was Paul Manafort, who was Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman for several months last year and had worked as a political consultant in Ukraine. The officials declined to identify the other Trump associates on the calls.”

The story said Mr. Manafort communicated with Russian and Ukrainian intelligence.

But Mr. Downing’s brief says he has asked Mr. Mueller for any evidence that Mr. Manafort communicated with Russian officials. Mr. Mueller reported back that he had none, Mr. Downing said.
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I think Judge Ellis should require teh Muller team to testify about their communications with the media.  If prosecutors have been trying to poison the jury pool the defense is entitled to know it.

There appears to be a prima facia case at least with respect to the story that alleged communications between Manafort and the Russians when prosecutors now say they have no such evidence.

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