Manafort Hobbles Into Court for Hearing on Plea Violations

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, leaves court after a May 23, 2018, hearing in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Using a cane to make his first court appearance in months, convicted Trump ally Paul Manafort was given just over a week Friday to fight allegations that he lied to investigators. 

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has accused the 69-year-old of violating his plea agreement by misrepresenting details about his financial dealings, interactions with a suspected Russian spy and his contacts with the Trump administration.

Denying that any inaccuracies were intentional, Manafort for his part contends that he simply struggled to remember certain details of a complicated and stressful time in his life.

The parties detailed their respective positions on the issue in court briefs over the last month and will now have a chance to make additional arguments on Feb. 4 before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington. 

The hearing will be closed to the public so attorneys can argue without fear of disclosing sensitive information, though Jackson said Friday she will be sure to release a transcript of the proceeding soon after. 

Jackson said at the beginning of the hearing Friday that she had not made any decisions at that point on which side had the better argument, saying Mueller’s filings were at times “confusing,” while Manafort’s were often “conclusory.” She said she will ultimately need to determine whether Manafort “actually, intentionally lied” in violation of his plea agreement with the government.

Much of her questioning Friday was on what standard she would need to apply in the case, saying the decision will be “fundamental” to the sentence Manafort receives.

When pressed, Justice Department attorney Andrew Weissmann said the government does not “currently intend” to bring new charges against Manafort as a result of the alleged breach of his plea deal. He made sure, however, to say that the government was not ruling that possibility out, whether through Mueller’s office or another portion of the Justice Department.

Weissmann said they will not need to submit additional evidence on the issue, unless Jackson has specific questions.

“If there is an omission we have made or something we haven’t anticipated, we’re happy to supplement the record,” Weissman said.

Manafort attorney Richard Westling told Jackson that the defense concedes Mueller’s office raised the new allegations in good faith, even if he disagrees that his client intentionally lied.

A former lobbyist who briefly led President Donald Trump’s election campaign, Manafort was convicted on tax and bank fraud charges in Virginia in August and pleaded guilty the next month to conspiracy charges in Washington, D.C. Since that time, Manafort has met a dozen times with Mueller’s office and appeared twice before a grand jury.

Manafort wore a dark suit and a light red or pink tie for this morning’s hearing.

Walking with a noticeable hitch in his step, Manafort blew a kiss in the direction of the public seating area as he left the courtroom at the end of the hearing.

The former lobbyist has been incarcerated since June, even before his convictions, based on evidence of witness tampering. He is awaiting sentencing in the Alexandria Detention Center. 

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