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Mueller: Manafort lied about contacts with Trump administration

The special counsel’s Paul Manafort memo comes at the end of an explosive week for his 19-month old Russia probe as Robert Mueller signals interest in wrapping up at least some of his most high-profile efforts. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Special counsel Robert Mueller said Friday that Paul Manafort breached the terms of his guilty plea by repeatedly lying to prosecutors about his contacts with the Trump administration, bringing the longtime GOP operative’s problems directly into the Trump White House.

Mueller’s charges against Manafort had until now largely focused on events before the longtime lobbyist linked up with Trump’s presidential campaign as its chairman.

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But while the crimes he’s charged with still stick to that period, Friday’s filing indicated Manafort has been questioned at length since his plea agreement about his communications with the current administration. The revelation raises questions about who exactly Manafort communicated with in Trump’s government.

Mueller’s prosecutors in the 10-page filing claimed Manafort lied about his contacts — directly or indirectly — with Trump administration officials after pleading guilty to several charges in September and agreeing to cooperate with the Russia probe. Citing Manafort’s electronic communications, Mueller’s team said Manafort was indeed in touch with Trump aides, including a May 26, 2018, text exchange authorizing “a person to speak with an administration official on Manafort’s behalf.”

Separately, the special counsel accused Manafort of communicating with another Trump senior administration official through February 2018 despite telling Mueller’s office he had no such contacts.

“Manafort told multiple discernible lies — these were not instances of mere memory lapses,” the Mueller prosecutors wrote in the filing.

Despite the clear references in Mueller’s filing to the Trump administration, the White House immediately claimed vindication after the document was released.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the filing “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.”

Mueller’s court filing reveals for the first time that Manafort met with the special counsel’s prosecutors and the FBI 12 times since he agreed on Sept. 14 to cooperate with federal prosecutors in exchange for a guilty plea. Mueller also said Manafort testified twice to the grand jury — on Oct. 26 and again on Nov. 2.

The special counsel is also accusing Manafort of lying about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime aide alleged to have ties to Russian intelligence who has been charged in the special counsel’s wide-ranging investigation.

The filing said Manafort provided false information about several aspects of his relationship with Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian citizen who served as Manafort’s key representative on the ground in Ukraine during a series of political campaigns there where Manafort served as a highly-paid consultant.

Kilimnik was alluded to repeatedly in various court submissions by Mueller after Manafort was hit with his first federal indictment in October 2017 on charges including failing to register as a foreign agent and money laundering. In June of this year, prosecutors formally indicted Kilimnik as part of the case, charging him with obstruction of justice for allegedly working with Manafort to persuade two potential witnesses to provide testimony more favorable to Manafort’s defense.

Michael Cohen

But Kilimnik has never been taken into custody and is believed to be in Russia.

The new Mueller filing paints Manafort’s admissions about Kilimnik as grudging and often wavering. Prosecutors say that after admitting in court to conspiring with Kilimnik to procure false testimony, Manafort reversed course during debriefings and said he didn’t, then reversed himself again and admitted he did.

Much of the part of the submission about Kilimnik was blacked-out from the publicly-released version, but it appears Manafort sought to minimize the number and import of his contacts with Kilimnik, then retreated when confronted with contrary evidence. Prosecutors also accused Manafort of having “lied repeatedly” about his account of Kilimnik’s meeting with a particular individual or individuals, who are not identified in the public filing.

In another passage, there’s a curious reference to Manafort providing information to investigators prior to pleading guilty about a separate Justice Department investigation “in another district,” though it redacted any details about the case. The filing said Manafort tried to change his story about the subject after pleading guilty, but reverted after his lawyers showed him notes from the earlier session.

As part of Manafort’s sentencing, Mueller’s team said it’s prepared to prove its allegations “through documentary evidence and witness testimony at a hearing.”

Manafort’s lawyers last week pushed back against Mueller’s claims about a breach in their plea agreement breach, telling the federal judge in Washington, D.C., presiding over the case that their client “believes he has provided truthful information.”

Lawyers for the lobbyist and international political consultant declined comment on Friday in the wake of the latest Mueller memo explaining the inconsistencies. They have their own deadline Wednesday to submit an official response to the court about the special counsel’s newest filing.

Mueller’s Manafort memo comes at the end of an explosive week for his nearly 19-month old Russia probe as the special counsel signals interest in wrapping up at least some of his most high-profile efforts.

George Papadapoulos, Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen

Earlier Friday, Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York released a separate filing that revealed former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen conferred with Trump about arranging a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the early stages of the 2016 campaign. They also recommended Cohen serve a sentence of just shy of four years in the wake of his guilty pleas for lying to Congress, tax fraud and campaign finance violations.

On Tuesday, Mueller issued a report praising Michael Flynn, the former Trump national security adviser, for his cooperation in the Russia investigation and recommended he get little or no jail time.

For his part, Trump has continued to rail against the Mueller effort. On Friday alone, the president lashed out seven times on Twitter with missives criticizing the Russia investigation, calling out the special counsel’s office for “big time” conflicts of interest and directly attacking Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as “totally conflicted.”

Mueller’s filing on Manafort comes as the 69-year-old lobbyist was already facing the possibility of a decade or more in prison before his case hit a snag with the allegations of lying after his plea deal. Legal experts say Manafort is now likely looking at an even more severe prison sentence.

“Paul Manafort should go to the commissary and purchase about 15 toothbrushes because he will need them for the time he’s going to spend in prison for the rest of his life,” said Gene Rossi, a former assistant U.S. attorney from Northern Virginia.

But the former Trump campaign aide’s situation also looks ripe to draw the president’s interest and the possibility of a politically explosive pardon. In an interview with the New York Post last month, Trump left open that prospect. “I wouldn’t take it off the table,” the president said.

Manafort has been jailed since June for alleged witness tampering. But his ultimate fate will be determined at a pair of important hearings coming up early next year.

On February 8, U.S. District Court Judge T.S Ellis III in Northern Virginia is scheduled to sentence Manafort for his conviction on eight felony counts of bank and tax fraud. U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C., has also scheduled a March 5 hearing to sentence Manafort.

Mueller had initially been preparing for a second jury trial against Manafort on seven felony counts, including money laundering, failing to register as a foreign agent and making false statements to federal investigators. But Manafort struck a last-minute plea deal admitting to those allegations in return for the special counsel whittling down his case to just two counts: conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

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