WASHINGTON — Prosecutors with Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation revealed in a court filing on Friday evening that Paul Manafort lied to them about several contacts he had with senior Trump administration officials while he was under indictment.
“The evidence demonstrates that Manafort lied about his contacts,” the prosecutors wrote. “The evidence demonstrates that Manafort had contacts with Administration officials.”
In September, Manafort, the former chairman of President Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including making false statements about lobbying work he did for the government of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and filing false reports to conceal money he made from those efforts. Manafort also admitted to obstructing justice by attempting to influence witness testimony in his case.
As part of his plea deal, Manafort agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s probe into whether Trump’s campaign cooperated with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. However, late last month, Mueller announced that Manafort had violated the terms of that deal. Friday’s filing was submitted to back up prosecutors’ assertion Manafort breached the plea agreement.
The revelation of contacts between Manafort and serving administration officials appears to undercut past statements by the president and his administration that sought to put distance between the White House and the prosecution of Manafort and Gates.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with us,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at a press briefing after Manafort’s first indictment.
Sanders made a similar argument in a statement responding to the court filings on Friday evening.
“The government’s filing in Mr. Manafort’s case says absolutely nothing about the president. It says even less about collusion, and is devoted almost entirely to lobbying-related issues. Once again, the media is trying to create a story where there isn’t one,” Sanders said.
Despite Sanders’s statements, the documents included a section extensively detailing Manafort’s contacts with the Trump administration.
According to prosecutors, Manafort initially attempted to claim he was not in touch with Trump’s officials.
“After signing the plea agreement,” they wrote, “Manafort stated he had no direct or indirect communications with anyone in the Administration while they were in the Administration and that he never asked anyone to try to communicate a message to anyone in the Administration on any subject matter. Manafort stated that he spoke with certain individuals before they worked for the Administration or after they left the Administration.”
However, the investigators’ surveillance and a cooperating witness contradicted those claims, according to Mueller’s team. Their filing revealed evidence of administration contacts in May 2018 derived from Manafort’s text messages. It also said the testimony of “another Manafort colleague” included claims Manafort talked about being in touch with the administration through February 2018. Other evidence about Manafort’s contacts with the administration was gathered from “a review of documents recovered from a search of Manafort’s electronic documents.”
Rick Gates, Manafort’s long-time business partner who also worked on Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in February 2018.
This section of the filing revealed Mueller is examining a back channel between people working for the president and Trump’s indicted campaign chairman, a new area of inquiry that was not previously known.
The filing, which was heavily redacted, also listed additional lies that prosecutors say Manafort told them. In its most-blacked-out section, prosecutors detail a series of misrepresentations by Manafort regarding “the fact and frequency” of his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort associate who now lives in Russia. Mueller’s team has previously described Kilimnik as having links to the Kremlin’s military intelligence agency.
In the unredacted excerpts, prosecutors described lies Manafort told about Kilimnik’s efforts to interfere with witnesses who might testify against Manafort, a $125,000 payment and matters pertinent to a mysterious investigation being conducted by other Justice Department personnel.
Manafort’s relationship with the special counsel’s office has been fraught from the start. Mueller’s team initially took a hard line that seemed aimed at gaining Manafort’s cooperation. They mounted a dawn raid on Manafort’s Virginia home in July 2017. Several months later, they indicted Manafort and his long-time business partner Rick Gates in Washington, D.C.
Gates pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in February of this year.
But Manafort did not crack then, nor did he crumble in February after a second indictment was filed in Virginia. Manafort endured a trial on the Virginia charges and was convicted on eight counts in August, which was enough to send him to prison for several years.
It was only on the eve of his second trial, in mid-September, that Manafort finally gave in, agreed to plead guilty and to cooperate with the special counsel.
Before his guilty plea, prosecutors wrote in the Friday evening filing, Manafort had met three times with Mueller’s office and the FBI. Afterwards, the prosecutors said he met with them nine more times with “prosecutors from other Department of Justice components” attending four of those sessions. The presence of other Justice Department offices signals that Manafort’s testimony was potentially relevant to multiple ongoing investigations not being handled by Mueller.
Prosecutors put Manafort in front of a grand jury twice before confronting him about their belief he was lying. Those grand jury appearances could have grave consequences for Manafort if the prosecutors decide to charge him and are able to prove their allegations, since lying in grand jury testimony is a more serious crime than lying to prosecutors or to the FBI.
The current phase of the Manafort case began with a motion filed jointly by the parties before the Thanksgiving holiday, requesting a 10-day extension of the deadline to file a status report.
That report, filed after the extension was granted, showed that the relationship had broken down entirely, with prosecutors accusing Manafort of committing additional federal crimes by lying to the investigation.
Manafort and his attorneys did not respond to a request for comment. Jason Maloni, a spokesperson for Manafort, offered a terse response in an email to Yahoo News.
“We have nothing to offer,” he wrote.
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