U.S. prosecutors disclosed Thursday that the Justice Department’s interest in former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort derived from the suspicion that Manafort acted as a “back channel” connection to Russians intent on interfering in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.
The revelation was made at a hearing where Manafort’s legal team argued that charges against him should be dropped due to special counsel Robert Mueller overstepping the bounds of his authority in the probe.
Defense attorney Kevin Downing argued anew to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington that even Mueller’s appointment order permitting him to probe “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” wouldn’t cover the political consulting work that Manafort did in Ukraine for a decade.
However, Justice Department lawyer Michael Dreeben argued that the investigation of Manafort was justified by the fact that he was the Trump campaign chairman:
“He had long-standing ties to Russia-backed politicians,” Dreeben told Jackson. “Did they provide back channels to Russia? Investigators will naturally look at those things.”