Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, came under scrutiny by the special counsel because prosecutors suspected he might be a back channel between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to interfere in the U.S. election, a Justice Department lawyer said Thursday. The disclosure came as lawyers for Manafort tried to convince a federal judge to throw out one of two federal cases against him, arguing that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III had no authority to hit him with criminal charges unrelated to the Russian meddling. An attorney for Mueller’s office, Michael Dreeben, told the court that the prosecution of Manafort’s alleged financial crimes arose because Manafort had “long-standing ties” to Russians, and investigators wanted to know if those connections provided a “back channel to Russia.”
“An investigation will naturally look at these things,” he said.
Manafort, once a prominent Washington lobbyist and Republican power broker, was indicted in Washington and Virginia after he declined a government offer to have the cases combined. He has pleaded not guilty to nearly two dozen charges of money laundering, tax evasion and bank fraud.