Washington: Paul Manafort lied about his interactions with an alleged Russian intelligence operative even after agreeing to cooperate with Robert Mueller’s inquiry, a judge ruled on Wednesday.
Manafort, Donald Trump’s former presidential campaign chairman, was found to have breached his plea deal by making false statements to the special counsel’s team, the FBI and a grand jury about his dealings with Konstantin Kilimnik.
The finding means that Mueller’s team is no longer obliged to endorse the lighter punishment that Manafort was promised for his crimes when he agreed to cooperate with investigators and tell them the truth. Manafort denied lying.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued the order on Wednesday evening at the federal court in Washington DC.
Jackson said Mueller’s team had established that Manafort lied about three disputed issues — his interactions with Kilimnik, a payment he took from a pro-Trump campaign group and another investigation that has not been identified.
She said Mueller’s team had failed to establish that Manafort lied on two other subjects — his recent contacts with Trump administration officials, and Kilimnik’s role in a conspiracy to obstruct justice for which they were both indicted.
Mueller is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, which US intelligence agencies concluded was aimed at boosting Trump’s bid for the White House, and any coordination between Russian operatives and Trump’s team.
Manafort, 69, was accused by Mueller of lying about the fact he had shared polling data on the 2016 election with Kilimnik, a former colleague on election campaigns for pro-Kremlin politicians in eastern Europe.
Manafort is also said to have misled investigators about plans that he and Kilimnik were developing for a settlement relating to Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine.
Kilimnik, 48, trained at a university connected to Russia’s military intelligence agency, formerly known as the GRU, which allegedly spearheaded the Kremlin’s effort to disrupt the US election in 2016.
Mueller has also previously said that Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy on the Trump campaign, described Kilimnik as “a former Russian intelligence officer with the GRU”. Kilimnik denies that characterisation.
The special counsel moved to tear up Manafort’s plea deal in November, alleging that the former campaign chairman had breached the agreement by continuing to lie. Mueller said the lies amounted to new crimes.
Manafort was known to have met Kilimnik twice during 2016. He passed the polling data to Kilimnik during an August meeting in New York, according to investigators. Mueller’s team also found Manafort met Kilimnik in Spain during 2017.
Manafort’s attorneys strenuously denied that he had intentionally misled the investigators. They said he could not remember some details and worked to promptly clarify any misstatements.
His attorneys did not deny that Manafort gave Kilimnik the polling data, instead stating that he had not lied about it but was merely “unable to recall specific details before having his recollection refreshed”.
As part of the plea deal struck last September, Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the US and conspiring to obstruct justice, in relation to unregistered lobbying work for pro-Russian politicians. Other charges against him were dropped.
By then, Manafort had been convicted of eight criminal counts in a separate fraud case brought against him by Mueller in Virginia.
—Guardian News & Media