President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman attacked an indictment accusing him of money laundering and other financial crimes, dismissing as "embellished" a criminal case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators.
Attorneys for Paul Manafort defended him in a court filing Thursday as a "successful, international political consultant" who, by nature of his work on behalf of foreign political parties, was necessarily involved in international financial transactions. They argued that Manafort, who led Trump's campaign for several months last year, had done nothing wrong and did not pose a risk of fleeing the country.
The filing was the first volley from Manafort's defense team seeking to undermine a 12-count indictment charging him and longtime business associate Rick Gates in connection with their political consulting work for Ukraine's former ruling party. The charges were the first announced by Mueller, the former FBI director appointed as special counsel in May to run the Justice Department's investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
They were placed on house arrest earlier this week, released on multimillion-dollar bonds meant to guarantee their appearances for future court dates. Both men appeared Thursday in federal court in Washington, where a judge determined that they would remain on home confinement and electronic monitoring at least through the weekend.
Attorneys for Manafort, 68, and Gates, 45, are asking U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to lift the conditions of their home confinement and say the bonds are enough to ensure they show up for court. The judge said she would take up the matter again at a hearing on Monday, but in the meantime, directed attorneys on both sides to not comment publicly on the case. Manafort's attorney, Kevin Downing, had issued a statement to reporters outside the courthouse on Monday.
"I expect counsel to do their talking in the courtroom and in their pleadings, and not on the courthouse steps," Jackson said.
Besides the indictment of Manafort and Gates, prosecutors revealed a guilty plea from a campaign adviser named George Papadopoulos, who admitted lying to the FBI about foreign contacts during the campaign.
Prosecutors disclosed additional details about the wealth and international connections of Manafort and Gates in a court filing earlier this week that sought to keep them confined to their houses. The prosecutors note that Manafort has provided widely differing accounts of his assets in the past few years. In 2016 alone, he provided six different figures, ranging from $25 million to $136 million.
Manafort also has three passports. And prosecutors say that in March, he registered a phone and an email account using an alias. He then used that phone to travel to China, Mexico and Ecuador, according to the filings, which do not say what alias he used.
In a response Thursday, Downing countered that the passports are in his client's name and noted that, though "it may be surprising to some, it is perfectly permissible to have more than one U.S. passport." He dismissed the allegation that Manafort was a flight risk, saying his client has traveled abroad and returned to the U.S., all while being well aware that he was under federal investigation and faced a possible criminal indictment.
Downing also denied that Manafort was involved in any criminal activity related to his Ukrainian work. All funds that went through offshore bank accounts were from "legal sources," he said.
Manafort was not trying to conceal his assets, his attorney said, noting that funds originating in Ukraine and going through Cyprus ultimately arrived in the United States.
"Obviously, international funds entering the U.S. banking system, or going to U.S. vendors, are traceable and subject to U.S. process," Downing said. "It goes without saying that in an international scheme to conceal assets, individuals generally move them offshore, not to the United States."
The defense lawyers also challenged the inclusion in the indictment of allegations that Manafort failed to register as a foreign agent with the Justice Department. The Justice Department, they said, has brought only six criminal prosecutions under that statute since 1966 and secured only one conviction during that period.