Manafort, Russian Ghostwrote Op-Ed to Buff Image, U.S. Says

(Bloomberg) -- Ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has apparently come up with a novel way to try to salvage his reputation amid money laundering and conspiracy charges.

As recently as last week, Manafort was ghostwriting an editorial with a longtime colleague with ties to a Russian intelligence agency, meant to put a positive spin on his work for the Ukrainian government, according to prosecutors for Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The international political consultant is charged with acting as an unregistered agent of Ukraine and laundering millions of dollars.

The article flouted Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s Nov. 8 order “to not try the case in the press” and is grounds for denying Manafort’s bid for freedom from house arrest before his trial, prosecutors wrote in a court filing Monday.

On Tuesday, the judge gave the defense two days to file papers explaining how Manafort’s actions didn’t violate her directive.

“Even if the ghostwritten op-ed were entirely accurate, fair and balanced, it would be a violation of this court’s Nov. 8 order if it had been published,” prosecutors said, adding that the proposed opinion piece was “not a dispassionate recitation of the facts.”

“The editorial clearly was undertaken to influence the public’s opinion of defendant Manafort, or else there would be no reason to seek its publication (much less for Manafort and his longtime associate to ghostwrite it in another’s name),” prosecutors wrote. 

Prosecutors said he was still working on it as recently as Nov. 30, when Manafort’s lawyers filed a motion outlining a bail package. Mueller’s office initially agreed to that proposal, which would have ended Manafort’s house arrest and electronic monitoring in exchange for posting $11.7 million in collateral.

In their court papers, Mueller’s team accused Manafort of a breach of trust. Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann stopped short of asking the court to jail the consultant, but said the defense now needed to offer greater security to ensure his continued appearance in court.

The government wants continued electronic monitoring and disclosure of the owners of limited liability companies that own houses in Bridgehampton, New York, and Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood that Manafort seeks to post as collateral.

Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

Stop Publication

It wasn’t clear who the Russian co-writer is, or where the duo tried to get the article published. The government alerted Manafort’s attorney on Nov. 30 and was assured that steps would be taken to stop publication, according to the filing. Prosecutors late Monday obtained court permission file the English-language piece separately under seal.

Manafort and longtime associate Rick Gates were indicted as part of Mueller’s probe into Russian influence on last year’s election. Both men pleaded not guilty and are under house arrest with electronic monitoring.

The case is U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

(An earlier version of this story corrected the spelling of Kevin Downing’s name.)

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