Kevin Downing, a lawyer for Paul Manafort, appears outside of Washington’s federal trial court after his client pleaded not guilty Monday to charges arising from Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Credit: C. Ryan Barber /ALM
Kevin Downing, a defense lawyer for Paul Manafort, on Monday criticized as “ridiculous” the charges brought against President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman arising from the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Downing, who resigned from the law firm Miller & Chevalier two weeks after taking Manafort’s case in August, had earlier appeared with his client in response to an indictment that alleged money laundering, tax evasion and unregistered foreign lobbying. Manafort pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Outside the courthouse in downtown Washington, D.C., Downing, surrounded by cameras, told a throng of reporters that none of the special counsel’s charges involved Manafort’s actions with the Trump campaign. Prosecutors, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, alleged among other things violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, a statute that requires disclosure to the Justice Department of lobbying and public relations work for foreign governments.
Manafort had turned himself in to authorities earlier Monday after he and a business partner, Rick Gates, were indicted on charges they “funneled millions of dollars in payments” into foreign companies and bank accounts opened by them and accomplices in countries such as Cyprus, St. Vincent and Seychelles.
Downing told reporters:
“There is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.”
Downing further said in his statement: “Mr. Manafort represented pro-European Union campaigns for the Ukrainians and, in that, he was seeking to further democracy and to help the Ukraine come closer to the United States and the EU. Those activities ended in 2014, over two years before Mr. Manafort served in the Trump campaign. Today, you’ve seen an indictment brought by an office of special counsel that is using a very novel theory to prosecute Mr. Manafort regarding a FARA filing.”
Downing said the U.S. government had only filed FARA-related charges “six times since 1966 and only resulted in one conviction. The second thing about this indictment that I, myself, find most ridiculous is the claim that maintaining offshore accounts to bring all your funds into the United States as a scheme to conceal from the United States government is ridiculous.”
Downing walked away and declined to take questions from reporters.
The charges against Manafort and Gates are among the first filed by Mueller’s prosecution team. George Papadopoulos, formerly the Trump campaign’s foreign policy adviser, pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about his contact with foreign nationals, including Russians, during the campaign.
“Manafort and Gates hid the existence of the foreign companies and bank accounts, falsely and repeatedly reporting to their tax preparers and to the United States that they had no foreign bank accounts,” the indictment stated.
During an initial hearing Monday, Greg Andres, an attorney on Mueller’s team, cited Manafort and Gates’ significant ties abroad and the “weight of the evidence” to argue that the two pose a flight risk. Manafort and Gates were each released on house arrest and with unsecured bonds of $10 million and $5 million, respectively.
Downing did not contest the terms of Manafort’s release Monday but said, “I definitely disagree with the strength of the indictment.” He said Manafort’s passport was in the possession of the FBI.
Manafort and Gates are scheduled to return to court Thursday for a 2 p.m. hearing before Judge Amy Berman Jackson.
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