Prosecutors defend the Steve Bannon investigation, but admit wrongdoing

Prosecutors handling congressional contempt for Steve Bannon on Monday acknowledged that their attempts to obtain email and phone logs from Bannon’s lawyer Robert Costello inadvertently captured similar records of others sharing his name.

But the error – which came as the Justice Department pursued evidence of Costello’s contacts with Bannon in connection with a subpoena issued by the select committee on Jan. 6 – has no bearing on the broader case, they argued in a 10-page lawsuit Monday night.

On the contrary, prosecutors say Bannon’s team tried to turn “relatively common investigative steps” into a scandal and revealed in a court that provided personal information about the other “Robert Costellos” and subjected them to “harassment.” What’s more, they say Bannon’s legal team may have leaked information from discovery material to a Daily Beast reporter.

U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols has scheduled a hearing on the issue, and others in Bannon’s case, for Wednesday morning. Bannon’s trial on two charges of contempt for Congress is set for July 18, but his lawyers are fighting to have the charges thrown away.

Bannon’s legal team used a lawsuit last week to draw attention to the apparent dead ends that investigators encountered as they tried to identify Costello’s phone and email accounts. Costello said he has never used any of the accounts the authorities have been informed about.

Prosecutors suggested that investigators had not only guessed at various possible email addresses, but consulted databases to get these clues.

“The three e-mail addresses that defendants complain about … are addresses that law enforcement databases identified as being associated with Mr. Costello and one of his known addresses in Manhasset, New York,” prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote in Washington.

Investigators concluded that two of the accounts did not belong to the correct Robert Costello, but they believed a Gmail account could relate to him, the filing said Monday night.

However, the investigation continued to search and retrieve details about emails from that account and logs of calls from a related phone number, although the first details of the Gmail account showed a middle name that should have signaled that the account belonged to another Robert Costello, admitted prosecutors.

“The government acknowledges that when it reached this conclusion, it did not recognize the inconsistent middle name in the billing information,” prosecutors wrote. “This was an appropriate investigative step. Telephone records and orders issued under Section 2703 (d) are used regularly to assist government investigators in verifying the use of accounts and means of communication and to exclude accounts that have ultimately been identified as irrelevant. “

Prosecutors added, however, that a Daily Beast story depicting the error – which contained details that went beyond what was revealed in Bannon’s trial – appeared to have been posted online more than an hour before Bannon’s allegations about DOJ went live in court. The government asked Nichols to question Bannon as to whether he provided the information to the reporter, a potential violation of a court order governing the evidence in the case.

“The government does not know how the reporter obtained the information of the uninvolved persons,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn and other prosecutors in the case, “but the subscriber information in this case was provided under the Protection Order, which prohibits Defendant or his attorney from using the material. for purposes other than ‘in connection with the defense of this case … without further order from this court’. “

Despite the dust over the erroneously obtained phone and email records, prosecutors insist the problem is ultimately not related to the underlying prosecution of Bannon.

“The records relating to accounts not belonging to Robert Costello have nothing to do with this case. They are irrelevant,” the prosecutor wrote. the attempt to establish Mr Costello’s means of communication goes to prove or disprove any element of the offense. “

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