The Blind Justice statue stands outside District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)  

Manafort Fires Back at Mueller’s Claims That He Broke Deal by Lying

(Bloomberg) -- Lawyers for Paul Manafort, the convicted former campaign chairman for President Donald Trump, used a court filing to deny that he broke his plea agreement by lying to prosecutors when he was supposed to be cooperating.

The filing came Wednesday as Manafort’s legal team seeks to limit the damage caused by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s claims that the political strategist lied about five matters during a dozen debriefings with prosecutors. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson will hold a hearing Friday, and she ordered that Manafort must leave his jail cell and attend, despite asking to be excused.

Mueller said in a detailed document last week that Manafort had breached his plea deal -- an assertion that Manafort’s attorneys disputed in federal court in Washington.

“A fair reading of the document,” the defense filing said, “does not support the conclusion that Mr. Manafort intentionally provided false information.” Many of the events described by Mueller “occurred years ago, or during a high-pressure U.S. presidential campaign he managed when his time was extraordinarily limited, or during the difficult time that followed his departure” from the 2016 campaign.

Manafort, 69, is preparing for sentencing in federal courts in Virginia and Washington, where he faces years in prison for tax fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy. He has been in solitary confinement and suffers from severe gout, depression and anxiety, his lawyers have said. He faces as long as 20 years in prison.

Mueller has said Manafort breached his plea deal partly by lying about his communication between August 2016 and March 2018 with Konstantin Kilimnik, a translator and fixer on campaigns in Ukraine for a decade. Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether anyone in Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russians, says Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence.

The heavily redacted filing -- in some instances, words are blacked out at four different points in the same sentence -- makes it difficult to follow the thread of Manafort’s denials. But in discussing his interactions with Kilimnik, Manafort’s lawyers cite his confusion during questioning and his faulty recall.

“Mr. Manafort’s failure of memory is not akin to a false statement and he willingly provided information once he recalled the meeting,” his lawyers wrote.

Witness Tampering

In several debriefings and in grand jury appearances, Manafort gave “various accounts concerning his communications with Kilimnik,” including a meeting in New York, according to prosecutors.

Mueller has said Manafort lied about his interactions with Kilimnik, his efforts to join Kilimnik in tampering with witnesses, his communications with the Trump administration while he was under investigation, a $125,000 payment involving an undisclosed party in June 2017, and matters relating to an undisclosed Department of Justice investigation.

In their filing, Manafort’s lawyers said there was confusion about whether the payment was a loan, income or a gift, but he reported it on his tax return. In discussing a separate Justice Department investigation, Manafort’s statements were corrected during an interview after his lawyers refreshed his recollection, according to the filing.

Manafort made false statements after the election about his contacts with the Trump administration through May 2018, saying he “never asked anyone to communicate a message” on “any subject matter,” according to a 188-page filing last week by Mueller.

Manafort Fires Back at Mueller’s Claims That He Broke Deal by Lying

In that filing, Mueller said Manafort told Rick Gates, his former right-hand man, in January 2017 that he was using intermediaries to secure appointments in the Trump administration. Gates pleaded guilty and is cooperating with Mueller.

The filing on Wednesday said one series of messages with the administration went through June 2018, but Manafort failed to make contact with anyone. In a second set of messages, he said someone asked for permission to use his name in case he met Trump.

“Here again, these text messages do not amount to contact with the administration, either direct or indirect,” according to the filing.

New Focus

Earlier this month, Manafort’s lawyers inadvertently disclosed in a court filing that Manafort shared internal polling data on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign with Kilimnik. Trump has said he had no knowledge of Manafort sharing such data with Kilimnik.

That disclosure was caused by a formatting error that made it possible to view redacted material and prompted a new focus on the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia. Recent news reports have said that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation of Trump and that he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin several times without telling officials in his own administration what they discussed.

The filing makes no public reference to polling data.

The court filing also revealed that Mueller claims Manafort lied about talking to Kilimnik about a Ukrainian peace plan and about a meeting they had in Madrid in early 2017.

Manafort has been in jail since June 15. Jackson revoked his bail after Mueller accused him and Kilimnik of witness tampering. In August, federal jurors in Virginia convicted Manafort of tax and bank fraud; he is due to be sentenced in that case on Feb. 8.

In September, he pleaded guilty in Washington to conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct justice by tampering with witnesses, and agreed to cooperate with Mueller. By pleading guilty, he avoided a second trial on charges that he failed to disclose lobbying on behalf of the Ukrainian government and that he laundered money.

Jackson set a March 5 sentencing date in Washington but has said she first wants to determine whether Manafort broke his deal with the special counsel.

In a filing last week, prosecutors said Jackson can resolve the question of whether Manafort broke his plea agreement based on evidence already submitted.

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

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.