The Russian Connection: More Headaches for Manafort

It’s hard to keep up with all the news that has been dropping the last few weeks as Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation gets closer to Donald Trump and his inner circle.

Politico reported late Thursday, the noose tightened around Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort when Mueller seized his banks accounts and five phone numbers last year. That news came after Manafort’s defense attorneys criticized the government for withholding too many details about how warrants were obtained.

The previously unknown move against the bank accounts was revealed in a list of search and seizure warrants prosecutors submitted to a federal court in Washington after Manafort’s defense team complained that the government was withholding too many details about how the warrants were obtained.

The new filing also indicated that Mueller’s investigators have been pressing on with their work in recent weeks despite the pair of indictments pending against Manafort and a detailed indictment in February of the Russia-based Internet Research Agency and a dozen Russian nationals for alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

On March 9, the special counsel’s office obtained a search warrant for information related to “five telephone numbers controlled by AT&T,” the prosecution said. It did not reveal who the numbers belonged to, although it said some information about the search was given to Manafort’s defense on Wednesday, so presumably there is some connection to the veteran political consultant who held a top role in the Trump campaign for several months in 2016.

The other shoe that dropped in the defense attempt to hamper the case against their client was a second Manafort employee gave FBI agents access to a storage unit is Alexandria, Virginia.

Former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort has trouble in his own house. According to court documents, one of Manafort’s former employees led an FBI agent to a storage locker filled with paperwork on Manafort’s businesses and finances. The person’s name is redacted from the filings. But he’s now at the center of a fight over evidence that could play a significant role in the government’s case against Manafort. [..]

The agent describes meeting with “a former employee of Davis Manafort Partners, and a current employee of Steam Mountain, LLC, which is a business currently operated by Paul Manafort.” The employee, whose name is redacted throughout the affidavit, told the FBI agent that he “performs a variety of functions for Manafort and his companies as directed by Manafort,” and was salaried.

That employee moved boxes of files from one storage unit to a second, larger storage unit in Alexandria. On May 26, 2017, just nine days after Rod Rosenstein named Bob Mueller special counsel, the person whose name was redacted led the FBI agent to the storage facility. The facility’s manager gave the FBI agent a copy of the lease for the storage unit.

“The lease identifies [REDACTED] as the occupant of Unit 3013, and also identifies Paul Manafort as a person with authorized access to Unit 3013,” the application says. “Rick Gates is listed as an alternate point of contact for the lease.”

The person whose name was redacted also gave the FBI agent “a key to the lock on Unit 3013 and described the contents of Unit 3013,” according to the affidavit. That person also gave the FBI agent “written consent” to search the storage unit, and opened it for the FBI agent.

The FBI agent then looked into the storage unit and saw about 21 boxes of documents, as well as a filing cabinet. One box was marked as containing expenses, paid bills, invoices, and legal complaints. Another box said it contained “Ukraine Binders,” as well information about ballot security, Georgia, research, and “Ukraine Campaign.” [..]

Though the name of the Manafort employee who showed the storage unit to the FBI was redacted in the affidavit, another exhibit Manafort’s lawyers filed appears to have that person’s name unredacted. The affidavit said the person who showed the FBI the storage unit was listed on the lease as the “occupant” of the storage unit. Manafort’s lawyers also filed the lease with the court as part of their motion to suppress the storage unit evidence. [..]

Manafort’s lawyers are arguing that the former employee didn’t have the authority to let the FBI agent look inside the storage unit.

Talk about desperate. It’s a good possibility Manafort’s lawyers are going to lose that argument.