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10 February 2019, 03:31 | Devin Moran
Manafort May Have Lied to Boost Chance at Pardon, Mueller Says
While many conservative critics of the investigation - most notably Trump - have dismissed the idea that there was any "collusion", criminal or otherwise, between the campaign and Russia's efforts to interfere in the election, the special counsel's office made clear in the hearing that it is still interested in these questions. But that portion of Weissmann's testimony is redacted in the public transcripts.
A top prosecutor in the special counsel investigation into 2016 election interference has told a federal judge that a summer 2016 meeting in ny between then-candidate Donald Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and a man described as a former Russian intelligence officer strikes at "the heart of what the Special Counsel's Office is investigating", a newly released court filing shows.
"This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the Special Counsel's Office is investigating", Weissmann said, noting Kilimnik's past intelligence ties and Manafort's position at the top of the Trump campaign at the time.
Russian-Ukrainian political operative Konstantin Kilimnik met with Manafort, who was Trump's presidential campaign chairman, in January 2017 when he was in the US capital for Trump's inauguration, according to the transcript of a February 4 court hearing in a federal court in Washington.
Judging by previous court filings the topic at issue appears to be a "Ukrainian peace plan" that was reportedly aimed at lifting USA sanctions on Russia - long an important objective of Russian President Vladimir Putin's government.
At one point, the prosecutor acknowledges that Manafort may have been playing for a pardon.
What is known about Manafort's interactions with Kilimnik came into fuller view in January, when defense attorneys for Manafort inadvertently revealed that their client stands accused of sharing polling data with Kilimnik, a suspected former Russian intelligence officer, according to court documents filed publicly in Washington, D.C. It makes clear that prosecutors have homed in on the repeated contacts between Manafort and his longtime associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, who the Federal Bureau of Investigation says has ties to the Russia's military intelligence agency. The hearing was to determine whether Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, lied to prosecutors during debriefings after he pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate. Prosecutors allege Manafort was talking about a redacted issue related to Ukraine as late as 2018.
A jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty on eight counts of tax and bank-fraud charged against him in August. Mueller has also gathered evidence about Russian oligarchs.
The transcript does reveal that Rick Gates, Manafort's longtime protege who also served on the Trump campaign, attended the meeting.
The August 2016 meeting with Kilimnik also mattered to prosecutors because the Federal Bureau of Investigation has linked Kilimnik to the Russian intelligence service, the GRU, Weissmann said.
In another instance during the hearing, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann alleged Manafort may have lied to hide a scheme to funnel cash to himself while doing unpaid work for the Trump campaign.
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