A defense attorney in a court filing says special counsel Robert Mueller has disclosed he has no evidence that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort communicated with Russian government officials.
If the attorney is accurate, it delivers another credibility blow to the Democratic Party-financed dossier, which accuses Mr. Manafort of orchestrating Trump-Russia collusion.
Kevin Downing, a defense attorney for Mr. Manafort, filed the brief April 30 in the special counsel’s money-laundering case against his client. Those charges are confined to millions of dollars he earned as a political consultant for Ukrainian politicians.
The Ukraine criminal case, to date in public court filings, has nothing to do with alleged Trump-Russia coordination. But Mr. Downing’s brief to a federal judge is relevant to the Mueller Russia investigation because it punches a big hole in dossier conspiracies being investigated by the FBI and Congress.
Mr. Downing said he has asked Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors multiple times under mandatory discovery rules for any information showing any communication between Mr. Manafort and Russian officials during the campaign season.
“The special counsel has not produced any materials to the defense — no tapes, notes, transcripts or any other material evidencing surveillance or intercepts of communications between Mr. Manafort and Russian intelligence officials, Russian government officials [or any other foreign officials],” Mr. Downing said. “The Office of Special Counsel has advised that there are no materials responsive to Mr. Manafort’s request.”
Mr. Downing said that government-sourced news stories saying Mr. Manafort communicated with Russians during the campaign were an “elaborate hoax.”
Mr. Downing’s declaration deals another blow to the veracity of the dossier, funded by the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign and written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
Mr. Steele laid out a supposed “extensive conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, and Mr. Manafort, as the dossier narrative goes, was right in the middle of it.
Mr. Steele wrote, “speaking in confidence to a compatriot in late July 2016, Source B, an ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP, admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them and the Russian leadership. This was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidates campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries.”
Mr. Page and Mr. Manafort have denied all the dossier’s Trump-Russia collusion charges, none of which have been confirmed publicly.
The fact that the special counsel, according to Mr. Downing, says he has no evidence of communications creates questions for other Trump-Russia reporting.
In a major story promoting collusion, The New York Times in February 2017 ran a story that said the U.S. government had complied a large amount of communication intercepts and phone records between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence. On its face, the story meant there was collusion.
That June, former FBI director James B. Comey, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the Times story was almost completely wrong. There were no such records.
Then there is the issue of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mr. Mueller and later gave him the parameters for investigating Mr. Manafort. One justification was the Ukrainian money. There other was allegations of Manafort-Russia coordination to interfere in the 2016 election.
The Rosenstein memo did not provide the source for that allegation. The only public allegation of such coordination is found in the Steele dossier posted online by BuzzFeed on Jan. 10, 2017.
The dossier has emerged as one of the more important documents in modern U.S. political history.
The FBI has relied on it greatly. It used the dossier to obtain a court-approved wiretap on Mr. Page, who has not been charged. Agents also relied on the dossier for leads and to question witnesses.
On his book tour, Mr. Comey has said the bureau tried to “replicate” Mr. Steele’s work.
The FBI formed an alliance with Mr. Steele and committed to paying him $50,000 to continue investigating Mr. Trump. But the FBI fired Mr. Steele after he violated FBI rules and went to the news media with his conspiracy tales.
The Republican majority on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence concluded in a final report last week that there was no collusion, thus rejecting all the dossier charges.
The committee’s Democrats, led by Rep. Adam Schiff of California, relied on the dossier at hearings and in questioning witnesses. Mr. Schiff applauded Mr. Steele’s work.
Mr. Downing made his no-evidence disclosure in a memorandum asking a judge to hold a hearing into government leaks against his client.
He said many of those leaks alleged a Russian-Manafort conspiracy that, while non-existent, damages his clients standing before a trial jury.
He specifically cited The New York Times February 2017 story. The story helped the Times win the George Polk Award in Journalism for its Russia coverage.
“If the representations of the special counsel are accurate and there is not, in fact, any evidence of communications between Mr. Manafort and foreign officials, then the perpetrators of this elaborate hoax must be identified and punished and the substantial unfair prejudice to Mr. Manafort must be remedied,” Mr. Downing wrote.