by Richard Pollock
Andrew Weissmann, a senior assistant to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, may have been a key Department of Justice official who leaked information to reporters about President Donald Trump, Russia and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, according to a Monday court filing by lawyers for Manafort, who is being prosecuted by Mueller.
Kevin Downing, one of Manafort’s attorneys, is spearheading a new legal offensive against Mueller, charging that a flood of media leaks has prevented his client from getting a fair trial. On April 30, Downing asked presiding federal Judge T.S. Ellis III 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 met with Associated Press reporters in 2017, which led to articles about alleged Russian collusion, the Trump campaign and Manafort.
The official — identified as Weissmann in exhibits attached to the filing — briefed AP 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.
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.”
Weissmann’s political loyalty has been scrutinized. He “attended Hillary Clinton’s election-night party at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York,” according to The Wall Street Journal, for example.
The lawyer also supported 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 FBI’s fraud unit and reported directly to then-FBI Director James Comey. 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. The New York Times last October 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 1990’s, 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,’” accordingto 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.
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