‘Mr. Manafort did not lie’: Attorneys take final stand against Mueller charges

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‘Mr. Manafort did not lie’: Attorneys take final stand against Mueller charges




Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort’s team insists that prosecutors, who have accused him of breaching a plea deal when he lied about a range of communications, are putting nefarious spins on their client’s honest memory failings. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Legal

The special counsel has accused Manafort of breaching a plea deal when he lied about interactions with an associate allegedly linked to Russian intelligence.

Paul Manafort’s lawyers made a last-ditch bid Wednesday to fight new charges that the former Donald Trump campaign chairman deceived special counsel Robert Mueller about his ongoing political work in Ukraine after his initial indictment.

“Mr. Manafort did not lie,” the longtime GOP operative’s attorneys argued in their latest heavily-redacted 13-page court filing that claims Mueller’s prosecutors haven’t backed up their assertions that Manafort intentionally misled them during cooperation sessions and two grand jury appearances.

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The special counsel has accused Manafort of breaching a plea deal when he repeatedly lied about a range of communications, including outreach to an associate allegedly linked to Russian intelligence. But Manafort’s team insists that prosecutors are putting nefarious spins on their client’s honest memory failings.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Wednesday afternoon is scheduled to hold her second sealed hearing in the last 10 days on Mueller’s new allegations. The judge, a President Barack Obama appointee, has said she could issue a ruling at the hearing’s conclusion. The decision will factor into Manafort’s sentencing, scheduled for March 13.

Mueller’s team has accused Manafort of making misstatements in five different areas, including his contacts with the Trump administration and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian national and longtime associate who the special counsel has also charged with witness tampering.

At a closed-door hearing last week, deputy special counsel Andrew Weissman told Jackson that Manafort’s interaction with Kilimnik goes “very much to the heart” of Mueller’s broader mandate to examine Russian influence on the 2016 campaign.

While redactions in the hearing transcript and related court filings make it challenging to get a full reading of the dispute between Mueller and Manafort, the special counsel appears focused on efforts during and after the election to get the U.S. government to consider a peace plan aimed at resolving Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory.

Mueller’s office has said Manafort and Kiliminik — someone the FBI said had a relationship with Russian intelligence — discussed the Ukraine peace plan numerous times. The talks, Mueller’s team claims, occurred in August and December 2016, in January 2017 when Kilimnik was in Washington, D.C., for the Trump inauguration, again in February 2017 and even in the winter of 2018.

During last week’s hearing, Weissmann said the special counsel’s office in particular questioned the veracity of Manafort’s statements about a meeting with Kilimnik on Aug. 2, 2016, at the Grand Havana Club in New York.

“There is an in-person meeting at an unusual time for somebody who is the campaign chairman to be spending time, and to be doing it in person,” Weissmann said. He later noted during the hearing that Manafort, his deputy Rick Gates and Kilimnik attended the meeting but purposefully appeared to leave the cigar club separately as a “precaution.”

Pushing back on Mueller’s interpretation of the Grand Havana meeting, Manafort’s attorneys argued Wednesday that their client told Kilimnik at the meeting that the Ukraine peace plan idea “was crazy and the discussion ended.”

But they dispute Weissmann’s characterization from last week’s hearing that Manafort had stated the Ukraine peace plan “never came up again” after that August meeting at the Grand Havana. Instead, they point to FBI notes summarizing interviews with Manafort when he said the “discussion ended,” not that it “never came up again.”

“There is no evidence to support the [office of special counsel’s] speculation that Mr. Manafort had a secret ‘plan’ from the outset to hide subsequent meetings with Mr. Kilimnik,” Manafort’s lawyers added.

Mueller’s allegations also appear to focus on the GOP operative’s acknowledgment that he continued to do work for a potential Ukrainian political candidate into 2018. The transcript released last week deletes the name of the candidate, but the special counsel’s prosecutors described a draft poll prepared with Kilimnik and questions that seemed intended to go beyond their campaign to look at broader policy issues.

The prosecutors appeared to suggest the poll stands as evidence that Manafort’s work on the Ukraine peace plan didn’t stop after he was indicted in late 2017.

But Manafort’s lawyers pushed back Wednesday on what it described as Mueller’s “faulty narrative.” They added that the special counsel “reaches both far afield and into the future (long after the defendant was forced to leave the 2016 presidential campaign) to argue that a draft Ukrainian benchmark survey (poll) that was never conducted, involving a potential client that Mr. Manafort ultimately rejected, is the smoking gun.”

“Even if there was any relevance or materiality to this issue given that, at this point, Mr. Manafort has no ties to the presidential campaign or the new administration, the government’s assertion (and thus its theory) is based on semantics,” the Manafort lawyers argued.

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