Prosecutors Detail Manafort Meetings With Accused Russian Spy

WASHINGTON (CN) – A newly released transcript from the Paul Manafort case shows that prosecutors have accused the former Trump campaign manager of working with alleged Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik during the 2016 presidential race and well after his own indictment.

Konstantin Kilimnik, an elusive figure under indictment for alleged witness tampering by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, is seen seated on the far left in a March 2006 photo obtained by The Associated Press as part of a collection of internal corporate memos and business records from the international political consulting offices of Donald Trump’s ex-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Mueller has indicated that Kilimnik is in Russia and has ties to Russian intelligence, which Kilimnik disputes. The photograph represents one of the few images known to exist of Kilimnik. Also in the photo, seated from left: Kilimnik, Martha Young, Catherine Barnes, Tad Devine, Paul Manafort, Phillip Griffin; standing from left: Lee Avrashov, an unidentified individual and Christian Ferry. (via AP)

At a closed hearing Monday, the details of which came to light Thursday in the form of a partially redacted transcript, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann identified an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik as of particular interest to the Special Counsel’s Office.

Weissmann asserted that the in-person meeting happened “at an unusual time” for the chair of a presidential campaign.

“That meeting and what happened at that meeting is of significance to the special counsel,” Weissmann said.

Manafort told prosecutors that the last time he discussed Ukrainian policy with Kilimnik, who has also been indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, was when they met on Aug. 2, 2016.

During the closed hearing Monday, however, prosecutors said that the pair met several times in 2017 – one of which occurred in Washington, D.C., during Trump’s inauguration – and last year as well.

Weissmann underscored the 2016 meeting as particularly important because the FBI has assessed Kilimnik as tied to Russian intelligence.

The meeting occurred while the Trump campaign was in full swing, and longtime Manafort associate Rick Gates attended it as well, according to the transcript.

Weissmann said that the pair took the “precaution” of leaving from a different exit than Kilimnik, presumably to avoid being seen with him at a time when the campaigns Russian contacts drew scrutiny.

Gates pleaded guilty in Mueller’s investigation and continues to cooperate with the probe. Kilimnik meanwhile was indicted alongside Manafort for attempting to sway the testimony of two potential witnesses in the case.

The witnesses, who are not identified in the indictment, served as intermediaries for the Hapsburg Group, a collective of former senior European politicians whom Manafort paid to lobby in the U.S. on behalf of Ukraine.

According to the transcript, Manafort changed his story about Kilimnik’s conduct during cooperation sessions, saying at one point that Kilimnik didn’t know that the Hapsburg Group was also working in the United States, and not just in Europe.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson probed the issue during Monday’s lengthy hearing, asking whether he was “intentionally trying to soften the blow for Kilimnik, or he was just saying: You want to know what he thinks? I’ll tell you what he thinks.”

Prosecutors and defense attorneys tried to flesh out during Monday’s hearing whether Manafort breached a cooperation deal with the special counsel by lying.

In one instance, prosecutors say Manafort lied to increase his chance for a pardon from President Donald Trump. Prosecutors also accuse Manafort of lying about a $125,000 payment that he used to settle a debt with a law firm he hired in 2017. He mischaracterized it as a loan.

Manafort pleaded guilty in Washington to conspiring to defraud the United States, obstruction of justice and violations of lobbying laws in relation to work he did on behalf of a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, including former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

In a related case, a Virginia jury convicted Manafort of bank and tax fraud on Aug. 21, 2018.

If U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson determines that Manafort did in fact lie during his cooperation sessions with the special counsel, it could affect his sentence.

Attorneys for Manafort argued Monday that any lies Manafort told were unintentional, according to the hearing transcript. Rather, as is common among cooperators, evidence presented by the special counsel about these matters jogged Manafort’s memory, prompting him to clarify.

But prosecutors allege that Manafort lied too many times for that explanation to make sense.

Thursday’s transcript also reveals that Manafort continued his work for a Ukrainian politician, whose name is redacted from the court document, after Mueller indicted him. According to the transcript, Manafort worked on a poll for the politician that contained questions, the topic of which he discussed with Kilimnik.

Those questions are of interest to the special counsel but the reasons why are redacted from the transcript.

“What is of interest to us is that the questions in the poll are completely consistent with the ongoing effort, at the very least by Mr. Kilimnik, to promote a” [REDACTED], Weissmann said during the hearing.

Sentencing memos in the case are due on Feb. 22, with sentencing tentatively scheduled for March 13.

Another sealed hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday..

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