Mueller Claim That Manafort Ghostwrote Op-ed Disputed by Author

(Bloomberg) -- To the list of activities attracting the attention of prosecutors, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort just added a new one: editor.

Oleg Voloshyn, a former spokesman for Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs under ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, said in an interview that he drafted the unpublished editorial that U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller accused Manafort on Dec. 4. of ghostwriting in order to influence public opinion about his work in Ukraine. Voloshyn said he wrote the piece on his own initiative. He said he sent it to Manafort only to check facts and incorporated a few of his suggestions.

It’s a violation of a court order for Manafort to try the case in the press, prosecutors say. Mueller is now seeking to deny Manafort’s bid for freedom from house arrest before his trial because of the editorial. More broadly, the dispute reveals how close Manafort remains to former colleagues in Ukraine, where he worked for a decade reaping millions of dollars in payments that are now subject to legal scrutiny.

Voloshyn said he was shocked to see his unpublished opinion piece spark the latest controversy in Mueller’s case against Manafort, who has been charged with conspiracy to launder money and acting as an unregistered agent for Ukraine. Voloshyn said that he sent his unpublished editorial last week to Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime associate of Manafort in Ukraine, who then forwarded it on to Manafort.

"He just advised me to add that the Yanukovych government also worked actively with the U.S. on nuclear disarmament and with NATO,” Voloshyn said of Manafort. “And since I knew of that as well, I agreed those could be valuable contributions to strengthen my message.”

Voloshyn said he asked the press service of the Opposition Bloc, a political party that Manafort had worked for in Ukraine, to send the editorial to the English-language Kyiv Post. The Opposition Bloc grew out of the Party of Regions, which Manafort advised until Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2014. 

Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni declined to comment.

Brian Bonner, editor of the Kyiv Post, said that he received the editorial on Monday. The newspaper isn’t planning to published the piece, Bonner said, which he called "highly suspicious" and "blatantly pro-Manafort."

Breach of Trust

Prosecutors say that as recently as last week, Manafort was ghostwriting the editorial with a longtime colleague with ties to a Russian intelligence agency, seeking to put a positive spin on his work for the Ukrainian government. The filing doesn’t name Manafort’s colleague but Voloshyn said Kilimnik was his point person. Kilimnik, who was Manafort’s right-hand man in Ukraine for almost a decade, declined to comment.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, prosecutors accused Manafort of a breach of trust by ghostwriting the piece and said the defense now needed to offer greater security to ensure his continued appearance in court.

“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),” the prosecutors wrote.

On Tuesday, the judge overseeing the case ordered Manafort to explain by Dec. 7 why he hasn’t violated the court’s gag order.

Voloshyn disputed that his piece was anything but a fair and accurate account of Manafort’s work in Ukraine. The editorial argued that Manafort was wrongly accused by Western media outlets of promoting pro-Russian interests in Ukraine. Without Manafort, Ukraine would have failed to make progress on an association agreement with the European Union, Voloshyn wrote.

“With all that said I can only wonder why some American media dare falsely claim that Paul Manafort lobbied Russian interests in Ukraine and torpedoed AA signing,” Voloshyn’s draft piece, which was sent to Bloomberg News, said. “Without his input Ukraine would not have had the command focus on reforms that were required to be a nation candidate to the EU.”

Yanukovych’s decision to refuse to sign the EU association agreement in November 2013 sparked protests in Kiev that eventually led to his ouster in 2014, when he fled to Russia.

TV Show

Voloshyn said he quit Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 2013 and since then has worked as a political consultant and pundit, with his own TV show in Ukraine titled “World Politics With Oleg Voloshyn.” Before joining Yanukovych’s government, he was press attache to the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow from 2008 to 2010 under Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, who later became Ukraine’s foreign minister under Yanukovych.

Voloshyn said he’d worked with Manafort on changing perceptions of Ukraine in the West when he was at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He said he’d be happy to speak with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation about how he wrote the piece, which he said had nothing to do with the charges against Manafort.

Voloshyn said he sent it to Manafort only to make sure he didn’t get his facts wrong. "I can only guess they screen his email,” he said. “It’s a big scandal about nothing. The Kyiv Post is hardly known in America.”

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