Mueller Says Manafort Lied About Contacts With Trump Officials

 nytimes.com  12/7/2018 11:42:25 PM  3  Adam Goldman and Sharon LaFraniere
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The special counsel’s office has accused Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, of lying to prosecutors in a breach of his plea deal.CreditCreditZach Gibson/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON — Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, lied to federal investigators about his contacts with Trump administration officials and his interactions with a Russian linked to Moscow’s intelligence services, the special counsel’s office said on Friday.

He also lied about a $125,000 payment made through a political action committee to cover a debt he owed, prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said in a partly redacted court filing explaining why they withdrew last week from a plea agreement they had reached with Mr. Manafort in September.

They also claimed he misled investigators pursuing a case unrelated to Mr. Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race and whether the Trump campaign conspired with the Kremlin’s operations.

“Manafort told multiple discernible lies — these were not instances of mere memory lapses,” the prosecutors wrote in a memo to Judge Amy Berman Jackson of United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

The filing is a new example of Mr. Mueller’s low tolerance for misstatements. Including Mr. Manafort, Mr. Mueller’s team has accused five former aides to Mr. Trump of lying to them.

When he agreed to plead guilty to two conspiracy charges and cooperate with prosecutors in September, Mr. Manafort, 69, had hoped that prosecutors would help him convince two federal judges that he merited a lighter punishment for his crimes. He faces at least 10 years in prison as a result of two prosecutions for charges ranging from bank fraud to conspiracy to obstruct justice and is expected to be sentenced early next year.

[Inside the rise and fall of Paul Manafort: greed, deception and ego.]

Though he had told prosecutors earlier that he had “no direct or indirect communications” with any Trump administration official while they were in government, Mr. Manafort had in fact kept in touch with a senior official through February 2018, prosecutors said. And three months later, in May, he authorized someone else to speak with a Trump appointee on his behalf, they wrote.

They also detailed additional contacts with administration officials, citing a search of his documents. They did not identify the officials or detail the reasons for the contacts.

Mr. Mueller’s team has left open the possibility that it could file new charges of lying against Mr. Manafort. His lawyers say he believes he was honest during his interviews with the special counsel’s office.

The new documents were signed by Andrew Weissmann, a prosecutor known for his no-holds-barred approach who has become a favorite target of President Trump’s. “He wrongly destroyed people’s lives,” Mr. Trump declared of Mr. Weissmann earlier Friday on Twitter.

The filing capped a busy week for Mr. Mueller’s team. His office also filed a recommendation on Friday for the sentencing of Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, alongside a scathing attack from prosecutors in Manhattan who rejected Mr. Cohen’s request to avoid a prison term and accused him of using his power and influence “for deceptive ends.”

The prosecutors sought about four years in prison for Mr. Cohen when he is sentenced next week for lying to Congress about the extent of Mr. Trump’s business dealings in Moscow, as well as for campaign finance violations and other charges.

Convicted by a Northern Virginia jury in August of eight counts of financial fraud, Mr. Manafort agreed to a plea deal on the verge on a second trial. He met with the special counsel’s office at least a dozen times before they declared that he had violated the plea agreement.

Prosecutors have previously accused the Russian they say Mr. Manafort was in touch with, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, of ties to Russian intelligence. A Russian Army-trained linguist, Mr. Kilimnik served as Mr. Manafort’s right-hand man in Ukraine for more than a decade, working on behalf of the country’s Russia-aligned former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, his party and the oligarchs behind it.

In Friday’s filing, prosecutors blacked out much of the information related to Mr. Kilimnik but revealed that some of it had been uncovered in emails and testimony. They claimed that Mr. Manafort lied about various interactions and meetings with him, as well as about his involvement with witnesses who might testify against Mr. Manafort.

Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik remained in touch even after their business in Ukraine came to an end. After Mr. Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016, the two men traded emails discussing how to use Mr. Manafort’s position for financial gain. Mr. Kilimnik also traveled to the United States to meet with Mr. Manafort.

This year, prosecutors have claimed, Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik teamed up to try to persuade two witnesses to lie about the scope of the Ukraine work in order to protect Mr. Manafort. Both men were charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, one of the felonies to which Mr. Manafort pleaded guilty in September.

A Russian citizen, Mr. Kilimnik now lives in Moscow. Because Russia does not typically extradite its citizens, he is not expected to ever face trial in the United States. In a 2017 interview with The New York Times, Mr. Kilimnik denied that he had any connections to Russian intelligence. He described himself as “a random casualty because of my proximity to Paul,” referring to Mr. Manafort.

The prosecutors also said Mr. Manafort misled them about the reason for the $125,000 wire transfer of funds in 2017 — claiming it was money owed to him as income or as repayment of a debt — and gave “inconsistent statements” about the source of the money.

Associates of Mr. Manafort’s said the money was funneled through a political action committee called Rebuilding America Now, set up in the summer of 2016 to help Mr. Trump’s then-cash-starved campaign. Spending $23 million, it was one of the biggest sources of funds for polls and advertisements on Mr. Trump’s behalf.

Mr. Manafort, who then headed the Trump campaign, dispatched two longtime friends, Laurance Gay and Ken McKay, to run the operation. Neither could be reached for comment.

The committee was one of the biggest pots of money for advertisements, polls and other efforts to back Mr. Trump’s campaign. Most of the funds came from several big donors: Linda McMahon, a professional wrestling executive who donated $6 million and was appointed by Mr. Trump to head the Small Business Administration; Bernard Marcus, who co-founded Home Depot; and Geoffrey H. Palmer, a California real estate developer. Each gave $5 million.

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