'A gross abuse': Trump's lawyer reportedly defended Paul Manafort in fiery email to reporter

An email written by President Donald Trump’s chief legal counsel in the Russia investigation appears to betray the White House’s past attempts to put distance between Trump and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

On Thursday, Fox News obtained an email written by Trump’s chief counsel, John Dowd, to a Wall Street Journal reporter. In the email, Dowd slammed the FBI’s recent raid on Manafort’s home as “a gross abuse of the judicial process,” calling FBI special counsel Robert Mueller’s inability to “exhaust less intrusive methods” a “fatal flaw in the warrant process.”

The FBI obtained a search warrant from a federal judge late last month and conducted a predawn raid on Manafort’s northern Virginia home in search of tax documents and foreign banking records.

Dowd, who was elevated to the head of Trump’s legal team after Marc Kasowitz stepped down last month, told the Journal reporter that the raid was employed “for its shock value to try to intimidate Mr. Manafort and bring him to his needs [sic].”

That concern stands in stark contrast to former White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s characterization of Manafort as a minor figure in the Trump campaign who “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”

“It does not appear that the White House is trying to distance itself from Manafort anymore,” said Andy Wright, a former associate counsel to President Barack Obama who is now a professor at Savannah Law School.

Manafort chaired the campaign for nearly five months, including in the lead-up to the Republican National Convention, and his relationship with Trump and one of his close advisers, Roger Stone, goes back decades.

Experts said Dowd’s reaction to news of the raid, however, indicates that Trump’s lawyers view Manafort’s legal troubles as connected to the president’s. Dowd also purported to know details about the affidavit the FBI presented to the judge to obtain the search warrant, suggesting that Wednesday’s media reports were not the first time he had heard of the raid — or considered how to respond to it.

The “necessity” of the warrant, Dowd said in his reported email, was “misrepresented to the Court which raises a host of issues involving the accuracy of the warrant application and the supporting FBI affidavit.” That “fatal flaw in the warrant process,” he said, “would call for a Motion to Supress [sic] the fruits of the search.”

Wright wondered about the basis of Dowd’s accusations.

“If Dowd hasn’t seen the warrant application or the factual basis provided by law enforcement in the affidavit and exhibits, then I don’t see how he is in a position to assess the warrant’s validity,” he said Thursday.

“How does Dowd know what was taken in the raid beyond public reports?” Wright continued. “Is he talking to Manafort’s lawyers? Has Trump’s legal team sought to establish a joint defence privilege?”

Joint defence privilege “permits parties aligned in interest in a pending litigation to share their respective attorney-client communications without making the content of such communications subject to discovery,” according to Law360.

Reached by phone on Thursday, Dowd said “sorry, I’m tied up,” before hanging up.

Former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller questioned why Dowd would write an email like this to begin with.

“Dowd is an experienced attorney, but his random comments to reporters have been all over the map and aren’t strategic at all,” Miller said.

Manafort has emerged as a key subject of Mueller’s probe, which issued grand jury subpoenas to global banks this week concerning the longtime lobbyist’s foreign work and income, Bloomberg reported.

Legal experts say Mueller is likely homing in on Manafort in the hopes that he will become a cooperating witness, and perhaps turn on Trump.

Manafort’s ties to Russia came under scrutiny last August, when The New York Times discovered that a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine designated him $US12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments. Manafort, a longtime Republican operative, had advised the party and its former leader Viktor Yanukovych for nearly a decade.

The ledger, and Manafort’s activities in Ukraine more broadly, were examined more closely following Yanukovych’s ouster on corruption charges in 2014. Manafort has been associated with at least 15 bank accounts and 10 companies in Cyprus, dating back to 2007, NBC reported in March, and he was reportedly $US17 million in debt to pro-Russian interests by the time he joined the Trump campaign.

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