Special counsel Robert Mueller said Friday that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied about five major issues after agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors, including his “contact with administration officials.”
In a heavily redacted document, Mueller also said Manafort lied about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik. Mueller has said Kilimnik has ties to the Russian military intelligence unit accused of hacking the Democrats, and they’ve previously outlined how the two men may have worked together to tamper with witnesses following Manafort’s arrest last year.
The accusations by Mueller add to growing signs that the special counsel’s team has a wealth of evidence about contacts between people close to Trump — even in the White House — and Russians during the 2016 campaign.
The document also contains the stunning disclosure that Mueller can show, including with text messages, that Manafort was in contact with Trump administration officials early this year — even after he was indicted in late 2017.
The new and damaging information for the White House comes at a time when every move by Mueller appears to bring his investigation deeper into the White House and Trump’s inner circle, and shows it has expanded well beyond what may or may not have happened in the 2016 campaign.
Mueller last week accused Manafort of lying during his interviews, saying that his actions during his cooperation were criminal and breached his plea agreement.
The investigators also say they have evidence about electronic communications related to Kilimnik and travel records, and they make clear in the document they have investigated “meetings” between Manafort and Kilimnik.
The special counsel believes Manafort also lied about a wire transfer made to a firm he had working for him in 2017 and “information pertinent to another Department of Justice investigation.”
The filing is the first time prosecutors have summarized why and how they believe Manafort breached his plea agreement. Previously, Mueller simply told a federal judge Manafort “committed federal crimes by lying” to the FBI and special counsel’s office during his cooperation interviews “on a variety of subject matters.”
Manafort says he has been truthful over several meetings with the special counsel’s office. His lawyers indicated last week that they may challenge the assertion that he lied.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders brushed off the filing from Mueller.
“The government’s filing in Mr. Manafort’s case says absolutely nothing about the President,” Sanders said in a statement. “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.”
Prosecutors say Manafort lied about contacting officials
Mueller’s team outlined how they believe Manafort lied “in multiple ways and on multiple occasions.”
Manafort lied to the special counsel’s office on contact with the administration this year, the document alleged.
He told a person via text message to talk to a Trump administration official in May, and separately he was in touch with the administration through February 2018, according to the document.
The prosecutors also cite “additional contacts with administration officials,” citing “electronic documents” they have.
Manafort was indicted last October and has been in jail since June.
Manafort told Mueller’s office after he began cooperating, 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.”
Prosecutors cite evidence they have of Manafort’s contacts with “administration officials,” including one who is a “senior administration official,” in February and May of this year. They cite text messages as evidence, and a description they have from “another Manafort colleague.”
The filing from prosecutors Friday does not say what Manafort was attempting to discuss with the administration while he was facing multiple charges from Mueller.
Manafort allegedly lied about meetings with Russian associate
Mueller said on Friday that Manafort lied to investigators about his interactions with Kilimnik, his former business associate who has ties to Russian intelligence. Specifically, prosecutors discussed with Manafort more than one meeting he had with Kilimnik.
There are very few public details about their interactions. But questions of collusion have swirled around Kilimnik, given his longtime closeness to Manafort and his links to Russian intelligence agencies that were aggressively meddling in the election. Mueller’s team said earlier this year that the FBI believes Kilimnik had active ties to Russian spies in 2016.
Prosecutors said they caught Manafort in lies about Kilimnik because they have “electronic communications” and “travel records.” Mueller’s team said they confronted Manafort with this evidence and he acknowledged his lies. But besides these breadcrumbs, critical parts from Friday’s filing about Kilimnik were heavily redacted by Mueller’s office.
The Washington Post reported last year that Manafort and Kilimnik met twice during the campaign. Manafort acknowledged to the Post that they discussed WikiLeaks releases against the Democratic National Committee because they were in the news at the time. Mueller’s team said Friday that Manafort lied to them about a “meeting with Kilimnik,” but that section is heavily redacted.
The Post also reported that Manafort and Kilimnik exchanged emails in 2016 about offering “private briefings” about the campaign to Oleg Deripaska, a prominent Russian oligarch. Manafort has said those briefings never occurred.
Kilimnik has denied working for Russian intelligence. Manafort denies colluding with any Russians. Kilimnik and Manafort were charged with obstruction of justice in June for trying to influence witnesses who could testify at Manafort’s trial. Manafort pleaded guilty to obstruction in September, but Kilimnik lives safely in Russia, out of the reach of US courts.
What Manafort knows
The details of what happened during Manafort’s cooperation interviews with the special counsel have been one of the most intensely pursued questions of the Russia probe — from what Manafort knows, to what happened in recent weeks. Even President Donald Trump’s lawyers have tried to stay in the loop regarding what he and Mueller’s team spoke about.
Manafort has long been considered the key to several questions central to Mueller’s investigation into Russia and the 2016 campaign.
Manafort attended the June 2016 campaign meeting at Trump Tower with Russians who had offered the campaign information on Hillary Clinton. His tenure on the campaign coincided with the Russian hackers’ efforts to steal Democratic Party and Clinton campaign emails and distribute them publicly. He also led the campaign through the Republican National Convention, when the party decided to soften its stance on US assistance to Ukraine against Russian-backed militias.
At first last year, Mueller charged Manafort with crimes unrelated to his work as chairman of the Trump campaign.
But it later became clear the special counsel sought documents and information about Russians Manafort knew, including his longtime colleague Kilimnik and Deripaska, to whom Manafort owed millions.
Prosecutors have also looked for records Manafort may have had that showed possible campaign finance violations such as illegal contributions made from foreign nationals, according to search warrants of his condo.
Manafort’s financial fraud trial centered around millions of dollars he earned doing Ukrainian political consulting years ago. Yet his trial on those charges veered toward his role on the Trump campaign when prosecutors alleged he used his proximity to Trump to secure a multi-million-dollar loan from a banker interested in being secretary of the Army or another top administration role.
What’s to come
The failure of Manafort’s cooperation could lead to more criminal charges, prosecutors have said. It also sets into motion a schedule that will lead up to his sentencing.
Manafort is now set to be the sixth Mueller defendant to face sentencing.
Both former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the federal government and will be sentenced separately in the next two weeks.
Three other less-high-profile defendants earned between two weeks and 6 months in prison.
Manafort is scheduled to receive his first sentence, for eight financial convictions decided by a Virginia jury, in early February.
His second sentencing date, before the judge who’s handling the breach of his plea agreement, is tentatively set for early March.
For the two charges he currently faces in DC federal court, Manafort could receive 17 to 22 years in prison, his plea agreement says.
The last time Manafort was seen in public he entered court in a wheelchair, with a foot bandaged, apparently suffering from an illness similar to gout. That was about two months ago.
This story has been updated.