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Manafort defense team denies op-ed violated gag order

Manafort defense team denies op-ed violated gag order
© Getty Images/Greg Nash

The legal team representing President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report Trump to nominate former Monsanto exec to top Interior position White House aides hadn’t heard of Trump's new tax cut: report MORE's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, responded on Thursday to special counsel Robert Mueller's request not to release him from house arrest, arguing that an opinion piece Manafort worked on with a Kremlin-linked associate did not violate a gag order.

Manafort's attorney said in a court filing that Manafort did not seek to influence the ongoing Russia probe as the FBI investigative team claims, but instead wanted to set the record straight in Ukraine where he had previously conducted business.

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"The Special Counsel’s Opposition — devoid as it is of both legal analysis and legal precedents — claims that Mr. Manafort has engaged in wrongdoing when all he has tried to do is to correct the public record in Ukraine concerning his consulting activities in Ukraine," the attorney wrote in the filing, which was shared by BuzzFeed reporter Zoe Tillman.

"There is nothing in the draft op-ed that would 'pose a substantial material likelihood of prejudice to this case,' " the filing says.

Manafort's lawyer also pushed back against the stipulations of the gag order.

"In the Special Counsel’s view, Mr. Manafort is apparently never allowed to set the factual record straight once an order under Local Criminal Rule 57.7(c) is entered, nor is he allowed to openly maintain his innocence. He must simply remain silent while his reputation is battered, and potential jurors in this District might be tainted. Fortunately, the fundamental right of freedom of speech is not abrogated because a U.S. citizen is charged with a crime," the filings say.

His defense team also argued that Manafort never intended to publish the op-ed in the United States, where Mueller's investigation, as well as multiple congressional probes, are looking into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

"The op-ed was to appear in a newspaper published, not in the United States, but in Kiev, Ukraine," Manafort's counsel wrote, adding that the draft is now a published article in the Kyviv Post, a Ukrainian newspaper.

"It was intended to be, and has been, published in a Ukrainian newspaper, the Kyviv Post," his attorney said.

His attorney's efforts come after a prosecutor on Mueller's team asked a federal judge to deny Manafort's request to release him from house arrest because of an op-ed he allegedly ghostwrote with an associate tied to Russian intelligence.

The prosecutor argued that the earlier deal he reached with Manafort's attorney about his house arrest status should be denied because of his attempt to influence the case, according to court filings made public on Monday.

“Even if the ghostwritten op-ed were entirely accurate, fair, and balanced, it would be a violation of this Court’s November 8 Order if had had been published," the prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

“The editorial clearly was undertaken to influence the public’s opinion of defendant Manafort, or else there would be no reason to seek its publication (much less for Manafort and his long-time associate to what write it in another’s name),” they continued, while only identifying the associate as someone based in Russia. 

While Manafort’s counsel did not directly deny Manafort’s involvement in the draft, his counsel noted that Oleg Voloshyn, a former top Ukrainian official, authored the draft op-ed. Bloomberg News reported Tuesday that Voloshyn asked Manafort to weigh in with his advice on the written piece.