A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, lied to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s prosecutors despite agreeing to cooperate in the sprawling Russia investigation.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson effectively voids Manafort’s plea agreement and means the 69-year-old former Republican operative and lobbyist will likely be sentenced to prison for the rest of his life.
“The Office of Special Counsel is no longer bound by its obligations under the plea agreement, including its promise to support a reduction of the offense level,” Jackson wrote in her order.
All the charges involve Manafort’s work for the Russian-backed president in Ukraine — before he joined Trump’s campaign — and subsequent allegations of attempted witness tampering.
The legal battle over whether Manafort lied to prosecutors — his defense team denied it — revealed new clues about Mueller’s closely guarded investigation into meetings and other contacts between Trump’s campaign aides and Russians during the 2016 presidential race.
A partially redacted document filed by Manafort’s lawyers disclosed that he shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-born associate who worked with Manafort in Ukraine. Prosecutors say Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence, an allegation he has denied.
In addition, the relationship between Manafort and Kilimnik was extensively discussed in a closed court hearing on Feb. 4.
“This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating,” Andrew Weissman, a top Mueller deputy, told the judge. A heavily redacted transcript was released after the hearing.
Weissman did not elaborate, but he cited a meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik at a cigar club in New York City on Aug. 2, 2016.
“That meeting and what happened at that meeting is of significance to the special counsel,” he said.
The meeting took place less than two weeks after Trump had accepted his party’s presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention and about two weeks before Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign over questions about his work in Ukraine.
Richard Gates, Manafort’s deputy at the time, also attended the meeting. Gates initially was named in the same indictment as Manafort, but he later pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and lying to investigators, and he has been cooperating with prosecutors.
Manafort’s conversations with Kilimnik were one of five topics that prosecutors said Manafort lied about.
The judge agreed with prosecutors on three of the five that Manafort “intentionally made false statements,” including on conversations involving Kilimnik.