Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort lied about matters ‘at the heart’ of the Russia probe, judge finds – Donald Trump’s America
A judge ruled that Paul Manafort had intentionally lied about three of five separate matters prosecutors had singled out. (AP: Martinez Monsiias)
US President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort breached his plea agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office by lying to prosecutors about matters that are material to its Russia probe, a federal judge has ruled.
- Manafort lied about his interactions with a Russian man named Konstantin Kilimnik
- Mr Kilimnik, Manafort’s former business partner, has ties to Russian intelligence
- Robert Mueller believes the lies to be “at the heart” of the investigation into collusion
The ruling concludes weeks of wrangling between Manafort’s lawyers and the special counsel over whether he had intentionally lied to prosecutors, impeding their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election and possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing the Manafort case in a Washington court, found there was a “preponderance” of evidence that Manafort lied on three different topics, including his communications with his former business partner Konstantin Kilimnik, whom prosecutors say has ties to Russian intelligence.
Mr Kilimnik has denied such ties.
Ms Jackson cleared Manafort of allegations that he intentionally lied on two other subjects — Mr Kilimnik’s role in an obstruction of justice charge and statements Manafort made about his contacts with members of the Trump administration.
Nevertheless, the ruling will almost certainly deal a blow to any hopes Manafort had of avoiding an extended term of incarceration.
Defence attorney Kevin Downing has argued that Manafort never intentionally lied to investigators. (Reuters: Kevin Lamarque)
Mr Mueller’s prosecutors are now released from their obligation to support a lighter sentence.
Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor, said one possible reason Manafort chose to lie was because he was hoping for a presidential pardon — echoing speculation raised by one of Mr Mueller’s prosecutors at a court hearing last week.
“Why he lied is a great mystery unless he is covering up something of significance,” Mr Zeldin said.
“Unless he is pardoned he is going to spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Manafort lies ‘at the heart’ of the Mueller probe
The judge found that Manafort lied about his interactions with Mr Kilimnik, including about the sharing of polling data on the Trump campaign and their discussions over a “Ukrainian peace plan,” a proposal that envisioned ending US sanctions on Russia — long an important objective of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government.
A court transcript released last week showed that Mr Mueller’s team believed those lies to be “at the heart” of their investigation into potential collusion, which Mr Trump and Russia have both denied.
Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said one of the discussions — an August 2, 2016, meeting at the Grand Havana Club cigar bar in New York — went to the “larger view of what we think is going on” and what “we think the motive here is”.
Robert Mueller’s team are focussed on several meetings between Manafort and his former Russian business partner Konstantin Kilimnik. (AP: Andrew Harnik)
Mr Weissmann said investigators were also interested in several other meetings between Mr Kilimnik and Manafort, including when Mr Kilimnik travelled to Washington for Mr Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.
Mr Kilimnik, who lives in Russia, was charged alongside Manafort with conspiracy and obstruction of justice, but he has yet to appear in a US court to face the charges.
In a court filing ahead of the ruling, Manafort’s lawyers repeated their argument that their client never intentionally lied to prosecutors and stressed that he corrected any mistakes once they were pointed out to him.
Manafort’s sentencing is set for March 13.
He faces up to five years in prison on two felony charges stemming from illegal lobbying he performed on behalf of Ukrainian political interests.
Separately, he faces the possibility of a decade in prison in a federal case in Virginia, where he was convicted last year of financial crimes including failing to pay taxes on some $US16 million he pocketed for his political work in Ukraine.
Sentencing in that case was delayed pending Ms Jackson’s ruling in the plea-deal dispute.
Manafort’s lawyers have said he is suffering from depression, anxiety and gout while in detention awaiting sentencing.
Given his age and health issues, Manafort had been in a position to receive some leniency prior to Jackson’s ruling, said sentencing expert Mark Allenbaugh.
“That is gone now,” he said.
“Manafort will serve a minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment, maybe more, for both cases.”