Judge questions ex-Trump campaign chief’s bid to suppress evidence

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge expressed skepticism on Wednesday toward a request by lawyers for President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to suppress evidence seized by FBI agents working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The hearing before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson gave Manafort another opportunity to hinder the criminal case against him. Jackson last week refused to dismiss the charges against him, including conspiring to launder money, conspiring to defraud the United States and failing to register as a foreign agent.

Manafort is asserting that his rights against unreasonable searches and seizures under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment were violated in the 2017 FBI raids.

Manafort’s lawyers told the judge the FBI conducted an illegal warrantless search on a storage unit by getting one of Manafort’s low-level employees to unlock it and let an agent look inside first. The agent later obtained a warrant to seize business records stored inside.

Defense lawyers said the employee was permitted only to go inside the unit “as directed by Manafort” in the course of his employment, and could not give lawful consent for the search.

Jackson seemed highly dubious about that claim.

“The lease says on its face he’s the occupant,” the judge said. “He’s named as the occupant and he has a key.”

U.S. President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives for a motions hearing regarding evidence in his case at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Jackson also expressed skepticism as Manafort’s lawyers tried to challenge the scope of warrants issued both for the storage locker and Manafort’s Virginia home.

In the search of the residence, Manafort’s lawyers contend the FBI improperly seized every single electronic and media device.

Manafort performed lobbying work for a pro-Russian former Ukrainian president before serving as Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016. He has pleaded not guilty.

In a second case bought by Mueller in Virginia, Manafort faces charges including bank fraud and filing false tax returns. The two indictments against Manafort arose from Mueller’s ongoing investigation into potential collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.

None of the charges against Manafort relate to his Trump campaign activities. Trump has denied that his campaign colluded with Russia and called Mueller’s investigation, which could threaten his presidency, a “witch hunt.”

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Jackson has yet to rule on two other pending motions by Manafort to dismiss particular criminal counts, including money laundering.

Separately, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis is considering Manafort’s request to have the Virginia charges dismissed.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham

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