WASHINGTON, U.S. - In a first, the Special Counsel Robert Mueller was just as miffed at the country’s media as the U.S. President Donald Trump always is, when publications feature a report on the alleged Trump-Russia collusion scandal.
In a court filing this week, the Special Counsel’s team called out inaccurate reports on the Russia investigation and attacked certain publications for irresponsible statements made in the reports.
Last week, following two new criminal charges being slapped on him by Mueller, and a subsequent hearing on the same - Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort was sent to prison.
While Manafort continues to wait for his July 25 trial in jail, the Special Counsel has already turned his focus on the crucial Virginia trial, in which the federal court will hear a handful of financial crime charges, including bank fraud against Manafort.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The Special Counsel, who has previously refrained from making any official comments on the probe in the media, except while indicting someone - this time, Mueller’s office launched a full blown attack on some top publications.
On Thursday, revealing the biggest concern in the Virginia trial - bias amongst jurors - Mueller’s new court filing attacked The New York Times and Washington Post in specific, for ‘inaccurately’ reporting on his investigation.
In the court filing, a footnote is said to have singled out the two news stories which appeared in The New York Times and Washington Post in 2017.
These news reports claimed that the Special Counsel’s office had conducted "no-knock" raids of Manafort's house - however, Mueller’s office later denied carrying out any “no-knock” raids as part of this investigation.
The Times cited two anonymous sources "close to the investigation" as saying that FBI agents had picked the lock on Manafort's door rather than announcing their presence prior to raiding his house.
Mueller pointed out that the Times report on the “no-knock” arrest was later featured in many news outlets, including the BBC, Vox and Business Insider.
Mueller’s filing also cited a February 2018 story that appeared in Boston Herald and a June 2018 op-ed in LA Times as other inaccurate stories.
Mueller wrote in the court filing, "The reporting, at times inaccurately, comments on the nature of the evidence collected in the case or activities of the parties. Furthermore, the amount of publicity about this case is only likely to grow as the trial date approaches, and such publicity increases the possibility that jurors will form biases or pre-formed opinions that may prejudice one or both parties."
In a bid to ensure that jurors aren’t biased by things that they’ve read in the media before the trial begins - Mueller’s filing reportedly asked a judge to issue a 19-page questionnaire to potential jurors in the Virginia trial to understand the possibility of their having prejudices before trial.
While Jurors typically receive a jury questionnaire when they arrive for service and often have to answer basic questions about prior experience, and pre-trial knowledge of the case - Mueller’s office wanted jurors to answer specific and detailed questions.
Reports that obtained a copy of the filing revealed that one of the questions Mueller’s office wanted potential jurors to answer was, “This case has received significant publicity in the media. Have you seen, read, or heard anything at all about this case in any form of media, including newspaper, television, radio, or internet? If yes, please explain (i) what you have seen, read, or heard, (ii) the source of that information, and (iii) when that occurred.”
Another question read, “Is there anything regarding the Special Counsel's Office that would prevent or hinder you in any way from rendering a fair and impartial verdict in this case based solely on the evidence presented and the Court's instructions on the law?”
It also sought to ask jurors, “Do you, any member of your immediate family, or any close personal friend have any connection to Ukraine?”
In connection to his Russia probe and the Obstruction of Justice probe against the U.S. President - Mueller has so far made only one statement without announcing charges.
Earlier this year, Mueller’s office warned reporters that "many stories about our investigation have been inaccurate," and called on them to "be very cautious about any source that claims to have knowledge about our investigation."
Meanwhile, Mueller’s court filing from this week, called out reports that "question the legitimacy of the Special Counsel's investigation, tending to advance the opinion that the investigation is 'tainted' and therefore its results are suspect," and stories that "include disparaging descriptions of the defendant."