Mueller details lies that doomed Manafort plea deal
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WASHINGTON – Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, lied to prosecutors repeatedly despite his plea deal to cooperate, according to a filing Friday from Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.
The lies covered Manafort’s interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national also under indictment for work with Manafort in Ukraine; a $125,000 wire transfer, and Manafort’s contacts with senior Trump administration officials, according to the 10-page filing.
“As summarized above, in his interviews with the special counsel’s office and the FBI, Manafort told multiple discernible lies – these were not instances of mere memory lapses,” according to Mueller’s filing.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson decided Friday to allow Mueller to file some details about the lies under seal. The accusations about Kilimnik are largely blacked out.
But even the redacted version stated that Manafort lied about a $125,000 payment made toward a debt incurred by Manafort. The debt and the firms involved aren’t described.
After signing his plea agreement, Manafort told prosecutors that he had no direct or indirect communications with anyone in the administration after Trump took office in January 2017, according to the filing.
But “the evidence demonstrates that Manafort lied about his contacts,” the filing said. For example, Manafort authorized a person on May 26 of this year to speak with an administration official on his behalf. Documents revealed other contacts.
The White House said the filing showed Manafort’s case has nothing to do with Trump.
“The government’s filing in Mr. Manafort’s case says absolutely nothing about the president,” said press secretary Sarah Sanders. “It says even less about collusion and is devoted almost entirely to lobbying-related issues.”
Manafort met with prosecutors and FBI agents on 12 occasions, including three before entering the plea agreement, according to the filing. He also testified at a grand jury on Oct. 26 and Nov. 2. Prosecutors informed Manafort’s lawyers Nov. 8 that they “believed that Manafort had lied in multiple ways and on multiple occasions.”
Terree Bowers, a former U.S. attorney in Los Angeles now in private practice at Arent Fox, said keeping the filing under seal is part of Mueller’s classical investigative approach of starting with subordinates then moving higher up the chain of command.
Because Manafort has a joint defense agreement with Trump, keeping details confidential could also limit what is shared with the president, Bowers said.
“Given the allegations that Manafort’s lawyers have been relaying information to Trump and his lawyers, Mueller’s team has to be somewhat concerned about revealing various legal theories and what they have left to pursue factually,” Bowers said. “Even the exact areas where they think Manafort has lied would be invaluable for Trump and others to know at this point.”
Bowers said the filing described a series of lies rather than an isolated incident.
“That shows that Manafort was minimizing and lying across the spectrum of what the investigation involved,” Bowers said.
Mueller voided the plea agreement Nov. 26 because of how Manafort tried to mislead prosecutors investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. The shocking move lost Manafort a chance at a shorter prison term, but also cost Mueller a highly placed witness.
In revealing the collapse of the plea deal, Mueller signaled that he had learned enough during his 18-month investigation to determine that Manafort was lying. The move also served as a warning to other witnesses: Don’t lie.
Mueller and his team still have the cooperation of Manafort’s top deputy, Rick Gates; Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Prosecutors also filed an argument Friday in federal court in New York calling for Cohen to be imprisoned when he is sentenced Dec. 12 for lying to Congress and for making hush payments to women alleging they had extramarital affairs with Trump. Prosecutors are asking for no prison time for Flynn’s cooperation when he is sentenced Dec. 18 for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians during the transition.
But Manafort was a key figure in the Russia inquiry. He was Trump’s campaign manager from March until August of 2016, during a crucial part of the campaign when Trump secured the Republican nomination and the GOP held its convention in Cleveland.
Manafort came to the campaign with a history of dealing with Russians and attended the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower during which the attendees were to discuss information promised to damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
A jury convicted Manafort of eight bank and tax charges in August for representing a pro-Russia faction in Ukraine. Sentencing in that case is scheduled Feb. 8.
But he’s also a tainted witness after pleading guilty in September to conspiring to obstruct justice, for urging other witnesses to provide inaccurate accounts to investigators while he was in custody. Sentencing in that case is March 5.
Kilimnik was indicted in July with conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to get other witnesses to not cooperate with authorities investigating Manafort. Kilimnik worked in Kiev with Manafort, who represented the pro-Russia government of President Victor Yanukovych from 2006 until he fled to Russia in 2014.
Manafort continued to have a joint defense agreement with Trump even as he said he was cooperating with Mueller. Trump, who has criticized the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt,” kept open the possibility he could pardon Manafort and called him a “brave man.”
As a witness, Manafort could have offered Mueller a seat inside the room at the Trump Tower meeting. He attended the meeting with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Trump Jr. has acknowledged seeking “dirt” on Clinton but insisted he did nothing wrong. No one has been charged related to that meeting.
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