U.S. President Donald Trump. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Manafort Denies Report That He Met With Assange

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said Robert Mueller is behaving “viciously,” a day after the special counsel accused Trump’s former campaign chairman of lying in breach of an agreement to cooperate with authorities.

In one of his most sustained and rambling attacks yet, Trump said on Twitter Tuesday that Mueller is “ruining lives” as punishment against witnesses who he said refuse to lie. The president’s attack on the investigation comes after Mueller said in court filings Monday that a cooperation pact with Trump’s one-time campaign chief Paul Manafort was void because Manafort lied to federal investigators and prosecutors.

Manafort Denies Report That He Met With Assange

The rupture in relations could hamper Mueller’s ability to turn other insiders against Trump in the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and has raised questions about whether Manafort could be angling for a presidential pardon.

“Wait until it comes out how horribly & viciously they are treating people, ruining lives for them refusing to lie,” Trump said in a tweet Tuesday. “Mueller is a conflicted prosecutor gone rogue.”

Trump didn’t mention Manafort, 69, directly in his posts Tuesday. But he said in subsequent messages that Mueller “is doing TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal Justice System, where he is only looking at one side and not the other. Heroes will come of this, and it won’t be Mueller.”

Mueller hasn’t made public any evidence that Manafort conspired in Russia’s election interference. But the Guardian reported Tuesday that Manafort repeatedly held secret talks with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he’s sought asylum from prosecution.

One such visit came in 2016, at about the time Manafort joined Trump’s campaign, the publication said, citing sources it didn’t identify. During the campaign, WikiLeaks published emails from the Democratic National Committee that U.S. officials say were hacked by Russian intelligence operatives. WikiLeaks denied the Guardian report, saying in a tweet that it’s “willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor’s head that Manafort never met Assange."

Manafort Denies Report That He Met With Assange

Manafort also rejected the report, calling it “totally false” in a statement on Tuesday.

“I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him,” Manafort said. “I have never been contacted by anyone connected to Wikileaks, either directly or indirectly. I have never reached out to Assange or Wikileaks on any matter.”

Mueller said late Monday that Manafort lied repeatedly to authorities after he’d pledged to cooperate as part of a deal with prosecutors that allowed him to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison. The special counsel didn’t provide details about the alleged lies. Manafort pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts after a jury convicted him of bank and tax fraud.

The three-page “Joint Status Report” had been eagerly anticipated since both sides received a 10-day extension to file it. With the end of the midterm elections, speculation mounted that Manafort might deliver information that could lead to charges against others in Trump’s inner circle.

Instead, the document laid bare the differences between two sides that have met repeatedly since Manafort entered his guilty plea on Sept. 17 before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Had Manafort provided “substantial assistance” to prosecutors, they could recommend a reduction in the 10-year term he faced under the deal. They say they won’t do that now.

But the filing raised suspicions among lawyers not involved with the case about Manafort’s motives.

“To the extent that he’s lying to the special counsel’s office, it says that he believes he can mislead them and walk away from this,” said David S. Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor. “Perhaps he feels this is to get a pardon, if the ultimate goal is to protect Trump or people very close to him. He may be saying, ‘I will tell the truth about myself but not implicate anyone else.”’

In Trump’s tweets on Tuesday, the president reprised his past claims that the probe under Mueller, a Republican, is being run by a “terrible Gang of Angry Democrats.” He alluded to his opponent in the 2016 presidential election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and her use of private email for government business. He made no mention of his daughter and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump’s use of private email for some official correspondence during the first nine months of his term.

Trump earlier downplayed reports saying his daughter’s emails didn’t contain classified information and haven’t been deleted, but CNN reported that House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy has sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly seeking additional information.

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