A newly released transcript reveals that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort continued working for a political client in Ukraine into 2018, after he had already been indicted in Robert Mueller's probe — and that prosecutors think Manafort may have told one lie to up his chances of a pardon.
During a sealed hearing Monday, which was held to discuss Manafort's alleged lies to the special counsel, prosecutor Andrew Weissman referred to "2018 work that he did with respect to polling in Ukraine," according to the redacted transcript.
Manafort was indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., in October 2017. He and partner Rick Gates, who also worked for the Trump campaign, were charged with money laundering, bank fraud and conspiracy against the United States.
After Manafort was convicted on federal charges in a related case in Virginia in 2018, he agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors on the D.C. charges, pleading guilty to conspiracy and witness tampering.
As part of the deal, he agreed to cooperate with Mueller's team. He was interviewed by prosecutors for 12 days and testified before a grand jury for two days.
In November 2018, Mueller's office said that Manafort had lied repeatedly to prosecutors and violated the plea agreement.
The redacted transcript of the hearing released Thursday, which describes some of the alleged lies, is 143 pages long.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
The transcript indicates that Manafort lied about interactions with former colleague Gates in regard to what a prosecutor called "an extremely sensitive matter," the nature of which is redacted.
The prosecutor told Judge Amy Berman Jackson that Manafort lied about what he had told Gates, and said Manafort lied because telling the truth would "have I think, negative consequences in terms of the other motive that Mr. Manafort could have, which is to at least augment his chances for a pardon." Only the president can pardon someone convicted of a federal crime.
The transcript misidentifies the person speaking to the judge as a defense attorney, but the speaker is clearly a prosecutor, likely Weissman.
Another alleged misstatement is related to Manafort's discussions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a person identified by the FBI as being associated with Russian intelligence. According to prosecutors, the discussions occurred on Aug. 2, 2016, while Manafort was Trump campaign chair, and continued through 2018.
According to prosecutors, Manafort and Kilimnik had a discussion that referenced a "backdoor."
The reference to a "backdoor" comes after the discussion of Manafort's work in the Ukraine, specifically work for a potential candidate there and polls Manafort had arranged.
The details of the discussion are redacted, so the transcript does not make clear who the candidate was, what the polling was about, or what "backdoor" means. It does not say anything about the backdoor being related to the Trump campaign, Russia, or any of the hacking and interference efforts that occurred in the 2016 campaign.
Weissman said the information showing Manafort's 2018 work in Ukraine had been "obtained, I think, after the Eastern District of Virginia trial" and was not shared with Manafort. The Virginia trial ended Aug. 21, 2018, with a guilty verdict on eight charges.
Judge Jackson asked prosecutors why the Kilimnik discussions and his role in 2016 were important. Weissman responded, "This goes to the larger view of what we think is going on, and what we think the motive here is."
"This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the special counsel's office is investigating. And in 2016. there is an in-person meeting with someone who the government has certainly proffered to this court in the past, is understood by the FBI, assessed to be — have a relationship with Russian intelligence, that there is REDACTED. And there is an in-person meeting at an unusual time for somebody who is the campaign chairman to be spending time, and to be doing it in person," Weissman said.
At one point during the hearing, Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing made reference to a communication between Kilimnick and a person whose name is blacked about, apparently about repealing U.S. sanctions on Russia, according to the transcript.
“There are documents that you were given regarding Mr. Kilimnik's communications with former REDACTED,” Downing said. “…this narrative of a REDACTED is nonsense because no matter who gets elected, that the sanctions were going to continue against Russia.”
In fact, former State Department officials told NBC News in 2017 that the Trump administration had been gearing up to unilaterally lift sanctions on Russia. Amid the furor over the Mueller investigation, that hasn’t happened.
The transcript also shows that Manafort attorney Richard Westling told the judge that his client was under significant strain when he decided to cooperate.
He told Judge Jackson, "I think the situation that we want to be sure the court is aware of — we know that it is — is just the challenges of anyone who is, you know, facing some of the physical and emotional challenges Mr. Manafort was; the situation of his confinement, the focus, really for the last months before this, really on just the trial issues on the case, and then shifting, almost immediately, to: Let's open the world to everything you remember over the last several years, and well before that."
Federal prosecutors countered by pointing out that the bulk of their questions had to do with the evidence they had already gathered and provided to Manafort prior to his trial in Virginia during the summer of 2018.