Manafort assistant gave FBI access to storage locker: Testimony

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, arrives at federal court in Washington, on June 15, 2018.
Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, arrives at federal court in Washington, on June 15, 2018. PHOTO: NYTIMES

ALEXANDRIA (REUTERS) - A personal assistant to Paul Manafort granted an FBI agent access to a storage locker in Virginia, allowing the government to secure evidence that President Donald Trump's former campaign manager is trying to suppress, according to testimony on Friday (June 29) in a federal court hearing.

FBI special agent Jeff Pfeiffer made the disclosure at a hearing to consider whether evidence from the locker and a separate search of Manafort's home, both in the Washington, DC, suburb of Alexandria, could be used in a trial set for July.

The hearing comes three days after Judge T.S. Ellis denied Manafort's motion to dismiss the case outright in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The judge rejected Manafort's argument that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had been improperly appointed and lacked authority to prosecute him.

None of the charges against Manafort relate to work he performed on the 2016 presidential campaign. Mueller is investigating whether Trump's campaign worked with Moscow to sway the election.

Trump denies any collusion and has repeatedly called the probe a politically motivated witch hunt.

In Friday's hearing, Pfeiffer testified that Manafort assistant Alex Trusko told him he had moved records from Manafort's residence into the storage unit. Pfeiffer described Trusko as a person who "ran various errands and also drove Mr. Manafort around." Pfeiffer, who conducted the locker search, said the FBI was tipped off to its existence by reporters.

The judge adjourned the hearing without ruling but asked lawyers to submit additional motions in the case next week, possibly including a request to move the trial to another venue.

Ellis' ruling on Tuesday marked the second time a federal judge has upheld Mueller's prosecutorial power.

Previously, Judge Amy Berman Jackson for the US District Court for the District of Columbia also refused to dismiss the Manafort case before her.

Those decisions mean Manafort is headed to trial in two cases, one before Ellis scheduled to start in July and the Washington case in September. The charges include conspiring to launder money, bank and tax fraud and failing to register as a foreign agent for a pro-Russia Ukrainian party.

Manafort was jailed earlier this month after Mueller filed fresh charges against him over alleged witness tampering while he was under house arrest.