Judge grills Mueller team on claim Manafort lied; prosecutors say issue’s ‘at heart’ of Russia probe


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A federal decide grilled Particular Counsel Robert Mueller’s crew earlier this week on its claims that former Trump marketing campaign supervisor Paul Manafort deliberately lied to investigators, in line with a newly launched, partially redacted court docket transcript launched Thursday.

Manafort, who prevented a second trial in Washington, D.C., final yr by agreeing to cooperate with investigators, allegedly lied to prosecutors about 5 separate matters, together with Manafort’s contact with administration officers; info “pertinent to a different Division of Justice investigation,” and a $125,000 wire switch to a agency working for Manafort.

However on the closed-door listening to on Monday, U.S. District Choose Amy Berman Jackson repeatedly and bluntly pressed prosecutors to elucidate why Manafort’s misstatements, together with some that he corrected voluntarily, ought to have an effect on his upcoming sentencing.

The decide, who can also be dealing with the continued legal case in opposition to Trump affiliate Roger Stone, brazenly puzzled whether or not prosecutors had bombarded Manafort with a collection of inauspicious and irrelevant questions throughout the roughly 50 hours of interviews that adopted his plea deal.


“Placing apart whether or not it needs to be established and whether or not we’ve got to determine all the weather of [a criminal false statements statute], why is that this vital?” Jackson requested prosecutors, referring to the their declare that Manafort misled authorities concerning the nature of the $125,000 wire switch.

Kevin Downing, lawyer for Paul Manafort leaves Federal District Courtroom after a court docket listening to for Manafort in Washington, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. Choose Amy Berman Jackson has scheduled a sealed continuing to find out whether or not the previous Trump marketing campaign chairman deliberately lied to investigators. (AP Photograph/Jose Luis Magana)

Manafort has denied deliberately deceptive Mueller’s crew and mentioned he’s beneath stress and bodily ailing. The previous Trump marketing campaign chairman claimed variously that the cash was owed to him as a mortgage compensation, revenue and reimbursement.

The funds had been despatched in 2017 by a political motion committee that spent thousands and thousands to assist Trump’s candidacy.

“I imply, mainly what you are saying is, you had been simply asking about one thing and it turned — it snowballed right into a collection of false statements,” Jackson mentioned. “However was there one thing about his — if I agree with you that he was mendacity about that, that was materials to what you had been doing? What was the significance of asking him concerning the fee within the first place?”

Jackson later instructed Manafort’s attorneys she wasn’t solely satisfied by their argument that his “succession of inconsistent explanations” could possibly be chalked as much as confusion attributable to accounting practices, including that “there’s some features of the proof I’ll must re-review.”

On the listening to, prosecutors maintained that Manafort additionally lied about his interactions with Russian-Ukrainian political advisor Konstantin Kilimnik, who has ties to Russian intelligence. Prosecutors mentioned Manafort made false statements about sharing polling information throughout the 2016 presidential election with Kilimnik.

High Mueller deputy Andrew Weissmann instructed Jackson that Manafort’s connections to Kilimnik “goes, I believe, very a lot to the guts of what the Particular Counsel’s Workplace is investigating. … In [August] 2016 there’s an in-person assembly with somebody who … is known by the FBI, assessed to be — have a relationship with Russian intelligence.”

Jackson acknowledged that Manafort, after pleading responsible to conspiring with Kilimnik, supplied an “exculpatory model of Kilimnik’s mind-set” that “is not essentially according to what one would name full and forthright cooperation.”

However, she added, Manafort rapidly corrected a few of his statements on the matter, undercutting prosecutors’ claims that Manafort had acted deliberately to mislead them.


“Given [Manafort’s] correction after session with counsel, why would this be one thing that we might characterize because the crime of creating an deliberately false assertion to the FBI, and even only a legislation of significance for acceptance of accountability in sentencing functions?” Jackson requested.

FILE - In this May 23, 2018, photo, Paul Manafort, Presiden Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves Federal District Court after a hearing in Washington. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

FILE – On this Might 23, 2018, photograph, Paul Manafort, Presiden Trump’s former marketing campaign chairman, leaves Federal District Courtroom after a listening to in Washington. ( AP Photograph/Jose Luis Magana)

After Weissman underscored the extraordinary nature of Manafort’s in-person assembly with Kilimnik, Jackson once more mentioned it was unclear why that might be a spotlight of Mueller’s inquiry.

“So, I am making an attempt to determine what the significance is of his ongoing work for a possible candidate within the Ukraine at the moment is, and the significance of any lies about that, or lies about Kilimnik’s information about that,” Jackson mentioned.


Though a lot of Weissman’s response is redacted, Jackson mentioned she discovered his response “useful” — however the decide went on to query prosecutors additional, after the protection crew slammed the federal government’s theories concerning the relevance of Manafort’s shifting statements on Kilimnik as mere “conjecture.”

“So, I do not assume the Courtroom wants to succeed in that situation, and I do not know that we have offered proof on the — that situation,” Weissman says, after redacted query from Jackson.

That reply drew a curt response from the decide.

“You did not. So that you simply don’t need me to consider it, that is okay,” Jackson mentioned, prompting Weissman to rapidly embark on an extended rationalization.

Once more, on the finish of his partially redacted reply, Jackson sounded a word of overt doubt as to the relevance of Manafort’s alleged misrepresentation.

“So, this is a crucial falsehood as a result of it was false?” Jackson requested. “Or is there some bigger purpose why that is vital?”


Towards the top of the continuing, Jackson took specific umbrage at prosecutors’ competition that Manafort had lied about his contacts with the Trump administration.

“And of all of them, that is the one the place I’ve probably the most problem determining the place the true contradiction is of second to the investigation,” Jackson mentioned.

Manafort’s “outreach seems to have been two folks exterior the administration who themselves would have contacts inside,” Jackson mentioned. “So, once more, I would like you to level to the particular assertion in a 302 [FBI witness report] or a grand jury assertion that’s the exact query and reply you assume I ought to denote as false. And, you recognize, it does appear to be that there are indications that he could have bragged that he nonetheless had sway or supplied to help folks or to foyer. However do we’ve got direct proof of contacts that contradict a denial of a contact?”

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has aggressively pursued criminal charges against several former top Trump aides, but none of the charges have involved criminal collusion with Russia. (AP)

Particular Counsel Robert Mueller’s crew has aggressively pursued legal expenses in opposition to a number of former high Trump aides, however not one of the expenses have concerned legal collusion with Russia. (AP)


At that time, a member of Mueller’s crew replied that Manafort had lied by denying having any direct or “oblique” contacts with the administration — and that the “oblique” assertion was a lie.

However the prosecutor, Greg Andres, started his response by acknowledging the decide’s vital tone.

“Given that you’ve points with it, I drew the brief straw,” Andres mentioned.

The Mueller deputy isn’t any stranger to harsh criticisms from the bench. Final August, throughout Manafort’s first trial in Virginia, Choose T.S. Ellis accused Andres of crying.

“I perceive how pissed off you’re. The truth is, there’s tears in your eyes proper now,” Ellis mentioned. (When Andres denied Ellis’ declare, the decide mentioned, “Effectively, they’re watery.”)

Manafort’s sentencing on two felony expenses associated to his Ukrainian lobbying is about for March, when Jackson will decide whether or not his punishment needs to be affected by his alleged false statements. Manafort faces as much as ten years in jail within the separate case in Virginia, the place he was convicted on tax and fraud expenses.

Earlier than adjourning, Jackson mentioned she appreciated Manafort’s attendance, having denied his try and skip the listening to due to logistical issues and what he says are well being challenges.

“I consider it was very useful, very helpful and essential so that you can have been right here, Mr. Manafort,” Jackson mentioned. “I do know that we have had hearings the place counsel sought to reduce the burden on you and never have you ever be right here, however that is about you, it isn’t about them. And I believe it is essential that they have you ever out there to ask inquiries to.”

Earlier this month, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley mentioned he expects the Mueller probe to supply its ultimate report “inside a month.”

Fox Information’ Jake Gibson contributed to this report.

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