Paul Manafort, right, leaves the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with his attorney, Kevin Downing, left, in November 2017. Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM

Jay Nanavati, a partner at Kostelanetz & Fink in Washington and a former U.S. Justice Department prosecutor, formally joined Paul Manafort’s defense team Tuesday, becoming the latest tax specialist to sign on to advocate for the former Trump campaign chairman amid the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

Nanavati’s formal entry of appearance comes three months after prosecutors working under Robert Mueller III, the special counsel, brought bank and tax fraud charges against Manafort in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Mueller’s prosecutors first filed charges in Washington federal court accusing Manafort of financial fraud and failing to register as a foreign agent based on his lobbying work for Ukraine.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. In February, his other defense lawyers moved into the Kostelanetz & Fink offices on New Jersey Avenue in Washington, foreshadowing Nanavati’s formal appearance in Alexandria federal court.

Last year, Nanavati was one of two tax experts who joined Kostelanetz & Fink, a New York-based boutique, to launch the firm’s Washington office. Nanavati earlier spent five years as a partner at Baker & Hostetler, after previously serving as an assistant chief of the tax division’s criminal enforcement section at the Justice Department.

He was joined in launching the Washington office by Caroline Ciraolo, who led the Justice Department’s tax division during the final two years of the Obama administration. “We are starting a new office sort of from scratch, but with the support of [an] existing firm,” Nanavati said last year.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi/ National Law Journal

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III is presiding over the case in Virginia. At a hearing last week, Ellis reportedly questioned the scope and motivation of the Russia investigation.

“We don’t want anyone in this country with unfettered power. It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special prosecutor has power to do anything he or she wants,” Ellis said in court, according to reports. “The American people feel pretty strongly that no one has unfettered power.”

Manafort’s defense team in the Washington case is led by former Miller & Chevalier partner Kevin Downing, Thomas Zehnle and Richard Westling, a partner in the Washington office of Epstein Becker & Green. Zehnle has also made an appearance for Manafort in the Virginia federal case.

 

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