Paul Manafort is one of the few Trump campaign officials who hasn’t pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors after being indicted by the investigators on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
Deciding instead to take his chances in court, Manafort’s decision hasn’t worked out so well to date.
Last week, the former Trump campaign chairman had his bail revoked and was sent to jail after Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found credible evidence of witness tampering by Manafort while he was under house arrest.
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He was also ordered to be separated from other prisoners. While the judge gave no explicit reason for this last ruling, presumably it was done to prevent Manafort from being able to pass messages to anyone on the outside through another inmate.
Yesterday, Judge Jackson denied a motion by Manafort’s attorneys to suppress evidence found in one of his storage lockers. Manafort’s lawyers argued that because federal agents had been allowed to peer into his storage locker before applying for their search warrant in May 2017, they violated his right to protection from unlawful search and seizure, leaving the evidence they found as “tainted.”
Judge Jackson found that the FBI agents didn’t need a warrant to enter the storage locker since an employee of Manafort’s gave them permission to look around. The agents discovered the unit contained boxes and a filing cabinet but didn’t open them until after they got a search warrant. Thus no evidence was discovered until all the legal procedures were properly in place.
The latest bad news for Trump’s campaign chairman was Judge Jackson’s decision this morning denying his motion to dismiss money laundering charges against him, according to an article in The Hill.
Among the many charges against Manafort is that he violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) with his work for the government of Ukraine. FARA mandates that anyone advocating on behalf — or to the benefit of — a foreign government or official must register with the Justice Department. Manafort did not register as an agent of the Ukrainian government until last year after his activities were already under investigation.
Mueller’s team has also charged Manafort with money laundering of the payments for his work for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled Ukraine for Russia in 2014 after massive street demonstrations against him.
Lawyers for Manafort tried to argue that the money laundering allegations are moot because the violations of FARA apply to his failure to register as a foreign agent, not his lobbying work. They also attempted to dismiss an asset forfeiture claim associated with those charges that could cost Manafort more than $30 million when he is convicted.
Judge Jackson rejected all of Manafort’s claims in her ruling this morning, telling Manafort’s lawyers that they misinterpreted the foreign lobbying law and pointing to the clear connection to the charges.
“These laws are not just about paperwork; their object is to ensure that no person acts to advance the interests of a foreign government or principal within the United States unless the public has been properly notified of his or her allegiance,” Jackson wrote.
Federal laws, she said, “expressly prohibit ‘acting’ as a representative of a foreign entity without submitting the required notification to the Attorney General. For these reasons, the alleged international banking transactions could ‘promote,’ and Manafort could realize ‘proceeds’ from, a FARA violation.”
“Moreover, it is difficult to square defendant’s argument that a violation of FARA is an act of omission that cannot be ‘promoted’ or generate ‘proceeds’ with the meaning of the money laundering statute when Congress specifically amended the money laundering statute to add FARA violations to the list of predicate offenses,” she added.
With Manafort languishing in a jail cell quite a step down from his luxury accommodations at home, the question he now faces is whether to spend his time in prison hoping that whatever the outcome of his multiple trials, President Trump will issue a blanket pardon to him, or to emulate his co-indicted colleagues and begin cooperating with the Mueller investigation to seek a plea deal.
Given his luck in court so far, a plea deal may be looking a lot more attractive than it was yesterday.
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