Manafort Judge Defers Ruling on Whether He Lied to Mueller

(Bloomberg) -- The question of whether Paul Manafort lied to investigators after he pledged to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller remained unresolved Friday after a brief hearing before a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson heard arguments for 35 minutes in weighing whether Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, breached a plea deal by lying during a dozen debriefings. Her decision could influence how harshly she sentences Manafort on March 5 for two conspiracy counts. They carry a maximum term of 10 years in prison.

After hearing procedural arguments, Jackson set a new hearing for Feb. 4, to be held in a sealed courtroom in Washington, after which she will issue a ruling. She also said she’ll release a redacted transcript of the hearing. Mueller’s arguments to support his claims that Manafort lied were heavily redacted in publicly filed documents.

Wearing a black suit, white dress shirt and magenta necktie, Manafort sat at a table with his lawyers after hobbling into the courtroom with a cane. Manafort, who’s been in jail since June 15, received the judge’s permission to appear in a suit, rather than prison garb. In a court filing, his lawyers have said he suffers from severe gout, anxiety and depression.

Mueller has said Manafort, a political consultant, breached his plea deal partly by lying about his communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, a translator and fixer on campaigns in Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Manafort’s lawyers inadvertently disclosed in a court filing that Manafort shared Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign’s internal polling data with Kilimnik, who Mueller has said has ties to Russian intelligence.

Manafort’s lawyers have argued in court papers that he didn’t intentionally lie. Rather, they say, he may have been mistaken during interviews or displayed a faulty memory.

“We believe the question of whether there was a breach turns on the question of whether Mr. Manafort intentionally lied,’’ defense lawyer Richard Westling told the judge. “Our contention is that he did not intentionally lie.’’

The judge asked prosecutor Andrew Weissmann if Mueller’s office planned to charge Manafort with additional crimes.

“We don’t currently intend to do that,” Weissmann said.

But Weissmann suggested that Manafort’s misconduct may prompt prosecutors to revive criminal counts they agreed to drop as part of the plea deal.

“We do want to preserve that ability,” Weissmann told the judge.

Manafort will be sentenced separately on Feb. 8 in Alexandria, Virginia, where a federal jury convicted him in August of bank and tax fraud. He faces up to five years on each of two conspiracy counts he admitted to, including joining Kilimnik in tampering with witnesses.

Jackson said she must decide whether those terms should run at the same time or be stacked back-to-back. She said she’ll also decide whether the term she imposes will run at the same time as the one set by the Virginia judge or will begin when that one ends.

The hearing came hours after the arrest of Roger Stone, Manafort’s former partner in a political consulting business, who was charged with lying, witness tampering and obstructing Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russians who interfered in the 2016 election.

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

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