- The former Trump election campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, filed a motion on Friday to suppress the main evidence that Robert Mueller had received against him last May.
- Manafort's lawyers argue that the evidence was unlawfully obtained and violated Manafort's constitutional rights.  A legal expert said it was highly unlikely that Manafort's application would succeed, as one important exception, the "unavoidable discovery", was one of the rules for searches and seizures.
- Friday comes after Mueller threw a spanner in them last week. Main pillars of Manafort's defense strategy
Late on Friday, lawyers from Paul Manafort, the former head of President Donald Trump's campaign, filed a petition for suppression potentially critical evidence against him in the Russia investigation.
FBI agents working for Special Adviser Robert Mueller received the evidence last May from a warehouse in Alexandria, Virginia, which is part of Manafort's consulting firm Davis Manafort Partners, Inc.
The attorneys at Manafort argued Friday that investigators had found the locker should not be allowed in court because the FBI violated the constitutional rights of the defendant by unlawfully searching and seizing the property.
According to court records, an FBI agent first searched the storage bin on May 26, 2017, after receiving approval from a "low-level" DMP staff member responsible for administrative duties.
The FBI agent then "watched a series of boxes and a filing cabinet" and "written a few on the pages of a few boxes," the document said. The agent returned on May 27 with a search warrant based on information he suspected he had visited the storage facility the previous day and subsequently confiscated documents and folders from the property.
Manafort's lawyers argue that the evidence in question should not be used in court because the first search was conducted without a warrant. They have also argued that the arrest warrant itself is too broad and constitutes a charter that violates Manafort's Fourth Amendment, which violates an inappropriate search and seizure.
Manafort is currently the subject of two charges against him. One who was arrested in Washington, DC, accuses him of money laundering, fails to register as a foreign agent, and misrepresents the investigators. The other, who was brought to Virginia, accuses him of tax fraud, bank fraud and non-disclosure of foreign bank accounts. Most charges against Manafort relate to his lobbying work for the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian interests.
Politico reported that the federal judge's arrest warrant, Theresa Buchanan, which authorized the search and seizure of locker material on May 27, allowed investigators to confiscate any records of Manafort or his longtime associate Rick Gates.
They were also allowed to take notes on former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich; the pro-Russian party of regions Yanukovych conducted; the lobby firm named the Podesta group, which was closed earlier this year after being tested in the Russia probe; a think-tank known for promoting Russia-friendly positions, the European Center for a Modern Ukraine; and several offshore companies with which Manafort is connected.
Manafort's lawyers argued in their petition that the arrest warrant "served as a general arrest warrant, illegally authorizing an unrestricted search and confiscation of virtually any document contained in the storage unit."
Worth a try?
Whether Manafort's application will be successful is up for debate.
But legal experts said that this was not a bad move for Manafort and that it could be worth the effort and the money, given the potentially damning punishment he faces when sentenced in the Russia investigation.
Investigators almost always require an arrest warrant when searching a property or records. One exception, however, is that if someone who seems to have authority over the premise agrees to the search, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti wrote on Twitter.
In Manafort's case, the person who agreed to search was listed on the property lease, which could be a setback for the former Trump campaign chairperson.
"It does not matter if he really was authorized to agree to the search," Mariotti said. "The legal test is whether it was reasonable for the FBI to believe that he had authority to agree to the search, which is a problem for Manafort because he appears on his face as having authority."
Another potential problem for Manafort is an exception called "unavoidable discovery", the rule that surrounds search commands, Mariotti said.
Unavoidable discovery is a legal doctrine that makes it possible to use evidence of the guilt of a defendant, who might otherwise be declared ineligible, against them in court.
Mariotti has highlighted a number of reasons why this exception could apply to Manafort's case.
First, he said, the FBI was aware of the camp locker's existence before the agent conducted the first search on May 26. Second, the DMP employee told the investigator what was in the unit. The initial search merely confirmed what the employee had learned from the DMP employee.
"If Mueller can show (by 51 percent, not beyond reasonable doubt) that he has received the arrest warrant without the quick eye of the FBI agent, Manafort will lose his request," Mariotti said.
"The burden on the defendant is very high" when they try to suppress evidence by arguing that a search or seizure is unlawful, he added. "Normally, there must be a false statement or omission that would have led the judge not to sign the arrest warrant.
Müller throws cold water at Manafort's defense strategy
Manafort has not spoken on all charges against him guilty, and Friday's request comes while he continues an aggressive defense in the Russian investigation.
Manafort's lawyers, in particular, argue that the charges against him for his lobbying in Ukraine should be dropped for two reasons:
- They do not refer to the focus of the Russia probe – whether Trump's campaign with Russia Voted.
- Mueller himself is too broad.
But Müller's office filed new documents last week that shook both pillars of Manafort's defense strategy.
The deposit included a private memorandum, which Chief of Staff Rod Rosenstein sent to Mueller last year. It states that the Special Adviser has the authority to investigate at least two threads concerning Manafort: allegations of criminal activity as a result of his work in Ukraine; and allegations that he collided with Russian officials when Russia tried to interfere in the 2016 US election.
Regarding Manafort's claim that Müller's mandate was too broad, the special attorney in filing said that Manafort's claim was "unhealthy".
It added that the Justice Department's regulations for the appointment of a special defender, Mueller, gave "limited flexibility," while authorizing Rosenstein to change the scope of Mueller's mandate where necessary, "completely completing matters to investigate and solve. "
Mueller's office questioned Manafort's right to dispute the validity of the Special Adviser's mandate at all, and said Manafort had "no grounds" to use that line of reasoning to demand the dismissal of his case.
Concretely, Müller's office said that the DOJ regulations, which regulate the appointment of a special legal adviser, should provide a framework for the internal structure of the department. He said that the regulations "unequivocally explain" that they are not intended to create any [enforceable] rights in criminal proceedings.
Earlier this week, Mueller received a new search warrant against Manafort last month. According to court documents, the arrest warrant referred to "ongoing investigations that are not the subject of Manafort's ongoing prosecution."
The revelation shows that Mueller is focusing on Manafort instead of investigating his lobbying in Ukraine to see if he collaborated with Russian officials while serving as election campaign chairman. It could also mean that Mueller is focusing on extending Manafort's relationship with other high-level campaigning officers.