June 6, 2018 / 6:51 PM / 3 months ago

Lawyer to ex-Trump campaign aide Manafort taps ethics adviser

WASHINGTON/MORRISTOWN, N.J., June 6 (Reuters) - A lawyer involved in several real estate deals that U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating in his criminal case against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort has hired his own ethics adviser.

Marc Garfinkle, a New Jersey ethics attorney, told Reuters that he has been retained by Bruce Baldinger, a longtime lawyer for Manafort also based in New Jersey, as a legal consultant to advise him about “attorney confidentiality and privilege issues that may arise” in the case. He did not elaborate on the details.

Baldinger declined to comment, as did Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort.

Prosecutors have alleged that two of Manafort’s New York companies were part of a scheme to take tens of millions of dollars earned overseas and launder it in the United States, including through real estate investments.

Baldinger signed biennial statements as the authorized person for those companies, attesting to the address at which the companies could be served with any court papers received by New York State authorities, according to copies reviewed by Reuters. The signed statements are necessary to keep the companies in good standing.

According to property records, in 2016 Baldinger also signed two loans as a “special secretary” for one of the New York companies - MC Brooklyn Holdings, LLC - for a total of $5.3 million against a brownstone in Brooklyn, some of which Mueller has alleged Manafort illegally earmarked for other purposes.

Baldinger has not been accused of any wrongdoing and Reuters could not determine what, if any, interest Mueller has in him.

If prosecutors determine that Baldinger’s role in the deals was minimal and he was unaware of any purported fraud, then his legal exposure could be limited to being called as a witness at any Manafort trial, legal experts said. They said, however, that if prosecutors believe he knew about any fraud or may have participated, then his legal risk could be much greater.

Garfinkle said he did not know whether or not Baldinger had also separately retained an attorney and added that it “doesn’t appear that he has any need to.”

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to charges in indictments in Washington and Alexandria, Virginia, which arose from Mueller’s investigation into any links or coordination between the Russian government and people in Trump’s 2016 election campaign. Manafort was a lobbyist for about a decade from 2004 for pro-Russian political leaders in Ukraine and among the charges is that he failed to register as a foreign agent.

Baldinger may be seeking guidance on the scope of attorney-client privilege applicable to the work he did for Manafort, with the real estate transactions potentially falling outside those protected bounds, said Mala Ahuja Harker, a former prosecutor.

“Manafort would certainly want the lines of the privilege to be drawn as broadly as possible,” said Harker, a lawyer with Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman LLP.

Although the attorney-client relationship is generally protected, lawyers can testify against their clients if the clients were involved in an ongoing fraud. (Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington and Nathan Layne in Morristown, New Jersey; editing by Grant McCool)

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