Prosecutors allege that Paul Manafort was working on Ukrainian political matters in 2018, after his indictment in the special counsel’s investigation, and also revealed that a former business associate of his who was assessed by the FBI to have ties to Russian intelligence attended President Trump’s inaugural, according to new court filings.
The details came in a partially redacted transcript released Thursday of a sealed hearing between prosecutors and the defense team for Trump’s former campaign chairman in the ongoing legal battle over whether Manafort lied and breached his deal to cooperate in Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The transcript contained some new elements.
At the hearing, attorneys discussed whether Manafort may have been motivated to lie in one unspecified instance “to at least augment his chances for a pardon,” the transcript states, suggesting prosecutors’ suspicion that Manafort might be trying to deceive them even now, after his guilty plea in September in Washington, in the hope of winning a reprieve from the president.
In another instance during the hearing, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann alleged Manafort may have lied to hide a scheme to funnel cash to himself while doing unpaid work for the Trump campaign.
If a judge determines Manafort, 69, lied after his plea, it could affect the sentencing he would receive after his admission that he conspired to defraud the United States, violate lobbying laws and obstruct justice in connection with years of undisclosed work for a pro-Russian political party and Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych. He also was convicted by a jury in August in a separate federal case in Virginia for bank and tax fraud crimes.
Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik — the aide who also has been indicted in the Mueller investigation — discussed a peace plan for Ukraine on more than one occasion, including during one meeting in August 2016, while Manafort served as Trump’s campaign chairman, Manafort’s attorneys have said.
A resolution of hostilities in Ukraine that led to the lifting of sanctions against Russia is a top Kremlin foreign policy goal.
The pair also met in December 2016, in January 2017 when Kilimnik was in Washington and again in February 2017, and as recently as the winter of 2018, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson summarized at the hearing, the transcript shows.
Jackson has not decided if Manafort lied and has set another closed hearing for Wednesday to weigh further arguments about Manafort’s truthfulness while shielding sensitive information about active investigations and uncharged individuals.
Mueller’s office claims Manafort “intentionally provided false information” in debriefing sessions on several topics, such as his interactions with Kilimnik. Court documents show that prosecutors contend Manafort passed polling data related to the presidential campaign to Kilimnik during the campaign, and that the two worked on a poll in Ukraine in 2018.
“Is there, you know, a pattern here of minimizing and understatement and belated acknowledgment after he finds out the government already has the proof when Kilimnik and Ukraine are concerned?” Jackson asked during the hearing.
In 2017, Kilimnik denied to the Washington Post having connections to Russian intelligence. He is believed to be in Moscow.
The transcript added a fresh hint of intrigue to a previously known Aug. 2, 2016, meeting at the Grand Havana Room, an upscale cigar bar in Manhattan, between Manafort and Kilimnik at the height of the Trump campaign.
Weissmann said at the hearing that the meeting included Rick Gates, Manafort’s top deputy on the Trump campaign and in Ukraine who also has pleaded guilty in the Mueller investigation, and that Gates said the men left separately using different exits than Kilimnik.
Kilimnik has said to the Post that the two discussed “unpaid bills” and “current news” at the meeting and that the sessions were “private visits” that were “in no way related to politics or the presidential campaign in the U.S.”
Manafort pleaded guilty Sept. 14, on the eve of jury selection for his trial in Washington.
In the deal with prosecutors, he agreed to cooperate “fully and truthfully” with the government, seemingly giving investigators access to a key witness who was at key events relevant to the Russia investigation — a Trump Tower meeting attended by a Russian lawyer, the Republican National Convention and a host of other behind-the-scenes discussions in the spring and summer of 2016.
Instead, the deal collapsed, with prosecutors withdrawing any offer of a recommendation for leniency and accusing Manafort in late November of lying repeatedly to them.
Manafort’s lawyers have countered that any discrepancies were unintentional as he refreshed his memory or recalled specific details in his sessions with investigators and a grand jury.
Under his plea deal, prosecutors have only to show that their determination Manafort breached his deal was made in “good faith,” which Manafort’s attorneys have conceded.
However, a separate finding by Jackson that Manafort in fact lied — and did not simply have lapses of memory as his defense claims — could mean as much as 10 more years in prison for him at sentencing, now tentatively set for March 13.
Legal experts say Manafort faces a possible seven- to 10-year sentence in his related Virginia federal case, which U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III postponed earlier this month to await Jackson’s ruling.
In previous court filings, Mueller’s office laid out detailed allegations that he gave contradictory statements in August in a separate Justice Department criminal investigation outside of Washington; falsely denied having ongoing contact with Trump administration officials since they took office in January 2017; and sought to take back his account, part of his guilty plea, of Kilimnik’s alleged role in a witness tampering effort in which both were charged.
In a final allegation, prosecutors have said Manafort lied about the terms of a $125,000 payment toward an apparent debt he incurred to a law firm he employed in 2017.
Manafort’s defense team has argued in court filings that “a fair reading” of much of the government’s evidence about the alleged lies “merely demonstrates a lack of consistency in Mr. Manafort’s recollection of certain facts and events,” many of which occurred years ago or during a high-pressure presidential campaign he left as questions about his work in Ukraine were being raised.
Manafort has been jailed since June.