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Paul Manafort’s Story Is Unraveling Before Our Eyes

From revelations of lying to alleged secret meetings with Julian Assange, the Mueller investigation has taken another turn

Paul ManafortHouston Astros at New York Yankees, USA - 17 Oct 2017Paul Manafort takes in game four of the Major League Baseball (MLB) American League Championship Series (ALCS) playoffs between the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium in New York City New York, USA 17 October 2017.

Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/REX Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — It’s been an extraordinary 24 hours in the world of Paul Manafort.

On Monday evening, Special Counsel Robert Mueller said in an explosive new court filing that Manafort, the disgraced former Trump campaign chairman and Republican lobbyist, had lied to the FBI and the special counsel’s office despite signing a plea deal in which he agreed to “fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly” answer all of the government’s questions.

Then, Tuesday morning, the Guardian reported that Manafort had allegedly visited Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, at least three times over the past five years at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where Assange has lived since 2012. One of those visits supposedly occurred in March 2016, the same month that Manafort joined the Trump presidential campaign to help Trump secure the Republican nomination. Later that year, WikiLeaks would receive tens of thousands of emails that were stolen from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party by Russian hackers. WikiLeaks spent the final months of the 2016 campaign selectively releasing those emails in an effort to damage Clinton’s chances before the election.  

The latest revelation of Manafort’s falsehoods will have serious consequences for both Manafort and the Mueller investigation as a whole. By allegedly violating his plea agreement, Manafort, who is already facing 10 years in prison for tax fraud, could face more time behind bars if Mueller’s team decides to refile charges against him that were previously dismissed as part of his deal to cooperate with the investigation.

Mueller, for his part, will likely lose a valuable trove of information about the inner workings of the Trump campaign in 2016 and a potential star witness. Any evidence gleaned from interviews with Manafort are now tainted by his alleged lies and crimes. It’s inconceivable that Mueller could call on Manafort to testify as a credible witness after now having accused Manafort of committing “crimes and lies” on “a variety of subjects,” as the new filing puts it.

Mueller’s lawyers said in the new filing that they will provide more specifics about Manafort’s alleged lies in an upcoming briefing with the federal court in Washington, D.C.

In the same filing, Manafort’s lawyers said that their client had met with the government “on numerous occasions,” answered their questions and provided information “in an effort to live up to his cooperation obligations.” They continue, “He believes he has provided truthful information and does not agree with the government’s characterization or that he has breached the agreement.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Manafort issued a statement in which he flatly denied ever meeting with Assange. “This story is totally false and deliberately libelous,” he said. “I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to Wikileaks, either directly or indirectly.”

WikiLeaks also vehemently denied the Guardian‘s story and said it was “willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor’s head that Manafort never met Assange.”

The news of Manafort’s alleged lies sent President Trump into a Twitter tailspin that, even by his standards, reeked of desperation. In a three-part series, Trump accused Mueller of being a “conflicted prosecutor” (he’s not) who had “gone rogue” and was “doing TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal Justice System (two claim made without any evidence).

In August, a jury found Manafort guilty on eight counts of tax and bank fraud after a weeks-long trial in northern Virginia. It was the first courtroom victory for Mueller after he had indicted Manafort and a colleague of Manafort’s, Rick Gates, who had also worked on the Trump campaign, for an array of financial crimes. Manafort is currently housed in a northern Virginia jail, where he has been in solitary confinement, awaiting his sentencing. Gates, who testified against Manafort in the first trial, is still cooperating and has yet to be sentenced.

Manafort was set to face a second trial in a D.C. federal court in September on charges of money laundering, illegal foreign lobbying and witness tampering. But he avoided that trial by agreeing to a lengthy plea deal that would have him cooperate with Mueller.

If Judge Amy Berman Jackson finds that Manafort did indeed violate that agreement, either by making false statements to or withholding information from Mueller, the deal is off. Under the terms of that deal, Manafort cannot change the guilty plea he entered in September. But Mueller can prosecute Manafort for the remaining charges he faced.

The only salvation for Manafort at this point appears to be a pardon from President Trump.

In This Article: Donald Trump, Julian Assange, Russia

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