A senior assistant special counsel to Robert Mueller’s investigation is facing allegations he leaked information to reporters concerning the Russian collusion investigation, according to a Monday court filing.
Paul Manafort’s defense attorney Kevin Downing officially leveled the leaking allegation against key Mueller deputy Andrew Weissmann as part of a new legal offensive against Mueller’s indictment of Manafort, who served briefly as Trump’s campaign manager.
Downing charges that a flood of media leaks has prevented his client from getting a fair trial. Downing asked presiding federal Judge T.S. Ellis III on April 30 to convene a hearing on media leaks. The judge has yet to rule on the request.
In the latest filing, Downing charged that a senior Justice Department official — identified as Weissmann in exhibits attached to the filing — briefed Associated Press reporters in spring 2017, which led to four breaking stories about the government’s investigation into alleged Trump-Russian collusion and Manafort.
“There is strong evidence that the highest-level FBI and intelligence officials authorized leaks to the press and, in fact, leaked themselves,” Manafort’s filing asserted.
According to the filing, a “senior Justice Department prosecutor” met with the AP reporters “last spring to discuss an investigation into Paul Manafort’s financial records, a day before the wire service published a major exposé disclosing alleged money laundering made by the former and now-embattled Trump campaign chairman.” Manafort’s attorneys finger Weissmann as the leaker to the AP meeting.
Downing reported in the filing that “the meeting did not go over well with FBI officials, who issued a complaint to the Justice Department suggesting that the attorney did not follow normal procedures for dealing with journalists.”
On May 14, Mueller personally rejected Manafort’s request for a hearing on media leaks, charging that the April 30 motion did not address any media leaks regarding secret grand jury testimony. However, they did not address leaks that disclosed internal deliberations by his staff or any other special counsel discoveries.
Weissmann’s political loyalty has been scrutinized. He attended Hillary Clinton’s election night party in New York City, for example.
The lawyer also supported then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ opposition to Trump’s initial immigration ban.
“I am so proud,” Weissmann wrote about Yates in an email the conservative group Judicial Watch uncovered. “And in awe. Thank you so much.”
Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has asked the Justice Department to provide information on the claim Weissmann met with news reporters.
When he met with the reporters, Weissmann headed the fraud section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. He was one of the first attorneys Mueller hand-picked to join the special counsel team in May 2017.
Weissmann has a reputation for pushing the boundaries on prosecutions. Last October, The New York Times called him a “pit bull” who used “scorched-earth tactics” against opponents.
Weissmann was also Mueller’s attorney on the ground who oversaw the pre-dawn raid on Manafort’s home.
In the 1990s, Chief Judge Charles P. Sifton reprimanded Weissmann as “reprehensible” during a trial regarding the Colombo crime family for withholding evidence.
“The judge described then (Assistant U.S. Attorney) Weissmann’s conduct as the ‘myopic withholding of information’ and ‘reprehensible and subject, perhaps, to appropriate disciplinary measures,’” according to a February 2018 article by investigative reporter Sara Carter.
Weissmann also has allies within the Justice Department and in the federal court system. Weissmann became friends with Loretta Lynch, who then headed the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District for New York.
“He was very friendly with Loretta,” a former federal prosecutor who worked in Brooklyn while Weissmann was there told The Daily Beast. “They were all part of a little gang together — they would go out for lunch, they would go out for dinner.”
Weissmann also became friends with fellow attorney Beryl Howell, who later joined the federal bench as a judge. Howell now oversees Mueller’s grand jury in Washington, D.C. It was Howell’s chambers that approved the raid on the home and law office for Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Manafort’s lawyers claim the multitude of leaks coming from Mueller’s office “constitute outrageous government conduct intended to deprive Mr. Manafort of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment Constitutional rights to due process and a trial by an unbiased jury of his peers.”
They charge that Manafort could never get a fair trial due to the leaks.
“In light of the mass media coverage of these leaks in print, on television, radio and the internet, it seems unlikely that there is a jury questionnaire, instruction or change of venue that could cure the irreparable harm to Mr. Manafort’s Constitutional rights resulting from leaks by the highest-level government officials,” Downing wrote.
The FBI and the special counsel’s office both declined to comment.
A version of this article appeared on The Daily Caller News Foundation website.
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