NEWARK, NEW JERSEY/WASHINGTON – Lawyers for Paul Manafort, the convicted former campaign chairman for President Donald Trump, denied in court papers that he broke his plea agreement by lying to prosecutors when he was supposed to be cooperating.
The filing came Wednesday as Manafort’s legal team seeks to limit the damage caused by special counsel Robert Mueller’s claims that the political strategist lied about five matters during a dozen debriefings with prosecutors.
“A fair reading” of Mueller’s claims does not support the conclusion that Manafort “intentionally provided false information,” according to the filing. Many of the events described by Mueller “occurred years ago, or during a high-pressure U.S. presidential campaign he managed when his time was extraordinarily limited, or during the difficult time that followed his departure” from the 2016 campaign.
Manafort, 69, is preparing for sentences in federal courts in Virginia and Washington, where he faces years in prison for tax fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy. He has been in solitary confinement and suffers from severe gout, depression and anxiety, his lawyers have said.
Mueller has said Manafort breached his plea deal partly by lying about his communications between August 2016 and March 2018 with Konstantin Kilimnik, a translator and fixer on campaigns in Ukraine for a decade. Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether anyone in Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russians, says Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence.
In several debriefings and in grand jury appearances, Manafort gave “various accounts concerning his communications with Kilimnik,” including a meeting in New York, according to prosecutors.
Mueller has said Manafort lied about his interactions with Kilimnik, his efforts to join Kilimnik in tampering with witnesses, his communications with the Trump administration while he was under investigation, a $125,000 payment he made to an undisclosed party in June 2017, and matters relating to an undisclosed Department of Justice investigation.
According to the special counsel, Manafort made false statements after the election about his contacts with the Trump administration, saying he “never asked anyone to communicate a message” on “any subject matter,” according to heavily redacted, 188-page filing last week by Mueller. In the filing, Mueller said Manafort told Rick Gates, his former right-hand man, in January 2017 that he was using intermediaries to secure appointments in the Trump administration. Gates pleaded guilty and is cooperating with Mueller.
Earlier this month, Manafort’s lawyers inadvertently disclosed in a court filing that Manafort shared polling data on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign with Kilimnik. Trump has said he had no knowledge of Manafort sharing such data with Kilimnik.
That disclosure, caused by a formatting error, made it possible to view redacted material and sparked a new focus on the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia. Recent news reports have said that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation of Trump and that he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin several times without telling officials in his own administration what they discussed.
Manfort’s court filing also revealed that Mueller claims Manafort lied about talking to Kilimnik about a Ukrainian peace plan and about a meeting they had in Madrid in early 2017.
Manafort has been in jail since June 15, when U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson revoked his bail after Mueller accused him and Kilimnik of witness tampering. In August, federal jurors in Virginia convicted Manafort of tax and bank fraud; he is due to be sentenced in that case on Feb. 8.
In September, he pleaded guilty in Washington to conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct justice by tampering with witnesses, and agreed to cooperate with Mueller. By pleading guilty, he avoided a second trial on charges that he failed to disclose lobbying on behalf of the Ukrainian government and that he laundered money.
Jackson set a March 5 sentencing date in Washington but has said she first wants to determine whether Manafort broke that deal. She has scheduled a Jan. 25 hearing on the case; it’s unclear if she will ask Mueller to present witnesses.
All told, Manafort could be sentenced to two decades in prison.
In a filing last week, prosecutors said Jackson can resolve the question of whether Manafort broke his plea agreement based on evidence already submitted.
The case is U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).