By Eric Tucker & Chad Day
WASHINGTON — Accused of multiple financial crimes, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman on Thursday attacked the strength of the evidence against him, saying the case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller is “embellished.”
In a court filing Thursday, attorneys for Paul Manafort defended him 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 say Manafort, who led Trump’s campaign for several months last year, has done nothing wrong and doesn’t pose a risk of fleeing the country.
The filing was the first volley from Manafort’s defense team, which seeks to undermine a 12-count indictment against him and longtime business associate Rick Gates. Both men are scheduled to appear Thursday afternoon in Washington’s federal court.
Mueller announced the indictment Monday charging the men with money laundering and other financial crimes related to their political consulting work for Ukraine’s former ruling party. They were placed on home confinement during a court appearance earlier this week, and both were released on multimillion-dollar bond amounts.
In addition to 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 of Manafort and Gates in a court filing Tuesday that sought to keep Manafort confined to his house. In the filing, prosecutors note that Manafort has provided differing accounts of his assets and that he has three different passports.
In a response Thursday, Manafort’s attorney, Kevin 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 also denied that Manafort was involved in any criminal activity related to his Ukrainian work, saying that all funds that went through offshore bank accounts were from “legal sources.”
Downing said that Manafort was not trying to conceal his assets, noting that prosecutors say funds that originated in the Ukraine and went 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,” they 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.
Also Thursday, the government filed court papers seeking to restrain Manafort from selling, drawing on or transferring a life insurance policy. Prosecutors are seeking to seize the policy, saying they believe it is the proceeds of criminal conduct.