Judge Spells Out How Manafort Lied About Russian Associate

(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge said she agreed with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s claim that Paul Manafort lied about his contacts with a Russian associate but said she couldn’t determine if the Russian was a spy.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson concluded that Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, made intentional false statements about his communication with Konstantin Kilimnik, a translator tied by Mueller to Russian intelligence, according to a transcript of a sealed hearing released Friday.

Manafort’s contacts with Kilimnik are “at the undisputed core” of Mueller’s investigation into whether anyone in Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russian meddling with the 2016 election, Jackson said at a Feb. 13 court hearing, according to the transcript.

Kiliminik “doesn’t have to be in the government or even be an active spy to be a link” to Russia, yet she didn’t have enough information to decide if he’s a spy, she said.

“I have not been provided with the evidence that I would need to decide, nor do I have to decide because it’s outside the scope of this hearing,” Jackson told lawyers in her federal courtroom in Washington.

Mueller’s Claims

At the hearing, Jackson delivered her decision that largely agreed with Mueller’s claim that Manafort lied repeatedly during a dozen debriefings with prosecutors after he pleaded guilty on Sept. 14 and agreed to cooperate with the Russia investigation. She said he lied in three of the five areas where Mueller said he was untruthful.

The transcript was released at virtually the same time that Mueller recommended that Manafort serve between 19 and 24 years in prison for his jury conviction on tax- and bank-fraud charges in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. The term that Mueller urged is particularly harsh for a 69-year-old man who has recently suffered from depression, anxiety and gout. He could be sentenced to another 10 years for his guilty plea in the Washington case.

In the Virginia case, jurors found that Manafort lied to tax authorities about tens of millions of dollars he earned in Ukraine and misled banks about his financial health to get loans. A jury convicted Manafort of filing false tax returns after prosecutors said he spent $15 million from unreported offshore accounts for expensive properties, custom clothing, renovations to his Hamptons estate and other luxuries.

Prosecutors said U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III needs to send a tough message.

“Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars,” prosecutors wrote to the judge. “The sentence here should reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to deter both Manafort and others.”

Political Consultant

Kilimnik worked for a decade with Manafort, a political consultant, on campaigns in Ukraine for pro-Kremlin politicians. He met several times with Manafort during and after the campaign, raising suspicions by Mueller.

Prosecutors have focused on how Manafort shared polling data about Trump’s campaign with Kilimnik, as well as their discussion of a peace plan for Ukraine. The U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia after its annexation of Crimea in 2014, and Russia has sought relief from that punishment.

Mueller’s prosecutors have said that a meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik at an upscale cigar bar in Manhattan on Aug. 2, 2016, is central to their inquiry. Manafort’s former right-hand man, Rick Gates, also attended the meeting before the three men separately left the Grand Havana Room.

Manafort also met with Kilimnik in Washington during the Trump inauguration, according to a transcript of a Feb. 4 court hearing. Both Manafort and Kilimnik also had communications with U.S. State Department officials in Ukraine, according to that transcript. The two men sought political work in Ukraine as late as 2018, records show.

Jackson ruled that Manafort also lied about a $125,000 payment made to his law firm by a company at the direction of a Manafort friend, and about a matter under a separate, undisclosed Justice Department investigation. She found that prosecutors failed to prove that Manafort lied in two areas -- about Kilimnik’s role in an obstruction-of-justice conspiracy, and his contacts with the Trump administration.

Mueller is also examining whether Manafort sought a pardon from Trump.

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