Attorneys for Paul Manafort on Wednesday rebutted allegations the former Trump campaign chairman lied to investigators and broke his plea deal, saying any misstatements he gave to special counsel Robert Mueller III’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election were unintentional.
In a redacted version of a 10-page document filed under seal, Manafort’s attorneys told a federal judge “a fair reading” of the government’s allegations “does not support the conclusion that Mr. Manafort intentionally provided false information.”
Rather, they said, “when placed in proper context, much of the evidence presented by [Mueller’s office] merely demonstrates a lack of consistency in Mr. Manafort’s recollection of certain facts and events. Indeed, many of these events occurred years ago, or during a high-pressure U.S. presidential campaign” which Manafort left under fire.
Prosecutors with the special counsel’s office said they are ready to back up their accusations by presenting witnesses about the alleged lies at a hearing scheduled for Friday in Washington before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson.
Manafort pleaded guilty in September in federal court in Washington to conspiring to cheat the Internal Revenue Service, violate foreign-lobbying laws and tamper with witnesses in connection with lucrative, undisclosed lobbying work he did for a pro-Russian politician in Ukraine.
He also was convicted by a jury in August in a separate federal case in Virginia for bank and tax fraud crimes.
He is awaiting sentencing in both cases, scheduled for Feb. 8 in Alexandria and March 5 in Washington. Manafort has been jailed in Alexandria since June, after the witness tampering charge was filed.
Jackson, of the federal court for the District of Columbia, directed prosecutors to lay out to her the “factual and evidentiary basis” of their claims about Manafort’s lying, which they did earlier this month in a heavily redacted court filing that included a 31-page affidavit from an FBI agent.
Manafort’s attorneys have said any misstatements were unintentional and that the accusations could be sorted out at sentencing for the 69-year-old Manafort, where the extent of his cooperation and whether he has accepted responsibility for his crimes could affect any request for leniency.
Manafort’s defense team had inadvertently revealed some of the contested statements – including that Manafort shared polling data about the 2016 race with an associate who allegedly has ties to Russian intelligence – in a previous filing with information intended to be sealed but that became public because of a formatting error.
Even as he was working for the Trump campaign, Manafort continued to communicate with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian employee of his consulting business who the FBI says was linked to Russian intelligence, prosecutors have previously said in court papers.
In a written statement to The Washington Post in 2017, Kilimnik denied that he had connections to Russian intelligence.
Kilimnik, who is believed to be in Moscow, was charged in June with conspiring with his former boss to obstruct Mueller’s investigation.
Mueller accused Manafort of lying about the pair’s talks about a Ukrainian peace plan during the 2016 campaign; a meeting between the men while they were in Madrid; and Kilimnik’s alleged role in the witness tampering effort to which Manafort pleaded guilty.
Manafort’s attorneys – Kevin Downing, Thomas Zehnle and Richard Westling – have told the court previously that Manafort had trouble recollecting certain details partly because solitary confinement at the jail has “taken a toll on his physical and mental health.”
In Wednesday’s filing, which was heavily redacted, Manafort’s lawyers said that he “did his best to recall his interactions” with Kilimnik, corrected one statement when his memory was refreshed by prosecutors with an email, denied that another statement was inconsistent, and attributed another alleged by prosecutors to a simple “failure of memory.”
The filing did not reveal much more about two other purported lies dealing with Kilimnik’s alleged part in the witness tampering conspiracy or about conflicting statements Manafort gave regarding a separate Justice Department criminal investigation outside the District.
In both cases, his attorneys wrote, Manafort was not attempting to back away from a more incriminating statement he initially gave, and corrected himself in each instance.
“Their statements do not support a conclusion that he intentionally lied,” Manafort’s attorneys wrote, adding, meetings with prosecutors “are often stressful for witnesses and there is nothing unusual or inappropriate in refreshing a witness’ recollection.”
The filing contained longer, heavily blacked-out sections on two other allegations: that Manafort lied when he denied having contact with Trump officials after they joined the administration, and about the terms of a $125,000 payment toward an apparent debt he incurred to a company he employed in 2017.
“Mr. Manafort had difficulty recalling the precise history of the payment; nevertheless, he explained it to the best of his recollection,” his attorneys said, adding Manafort made no attempt to conceal the payment or its source on his income tax return, reporting it as income in “the most tax disadvantageous manner in which it could have been handled.”
Manafort said text messages and notes cited by the government “do not amount to contact with the Administration, either direct or indirect.”
In their earlier filing, prosecutors asserted that files in Manafort’s computer showed that in March 2018 – four months after being indicted – Manafort was in contact with a senior administration official and authorized another person via text message to speak with a White House official on May 26.
Manafort’s attorneys previously have called the allegation about contact with a senior administration official hearsay. They said that the other exchange involved a person “asking permission to use Mr. Manafort’s name as an introduction in the event the third-party met the President,” which “does not constitute outreach by Mr. Manafort to the President.”
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Spencer S. Hsu