Paul Manafort, US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman. The special counsel’s team has accused Manafort of repeatedly lying to investigators, and they pulled out of their plea deal with him because, they said, he was repeatedly untruthful. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)
Written by: Adam Goldman and Sharon LaFraniere
Federal prosecutors on Friday accused Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, of lying to them about his contacts with Trump administration officials and other issues, including his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian tied to Moscow’s intelligence services.
After signing a plea agreement in September, Manafort “stated he had no direct or indirect communications with anyone in the administration while they were in the administration and that he never asked anyone to try to communicate a message to anyone in the administration on any subject matter,” prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, wrote in a memo to Judge Amy Berman Jackson of US District Court for the District of Columbia.
But, they said, Manafort hid information from them about his contacts with Trump administration officials, telling “multiple discernible lies — these were not instances of mere memory lapses.”
They also accused Manafort of lying about a $125,000 transfer of funds.
Mueller’s team has left open the possibility that it could file new charges for lying against Manafort. Manafort’s lawyers say he believes he was honest during his interviews with them.
Mueller’s office also filed a recommendation for the sentencing of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, alongside a scathing attack from prosecutors in Manhattan who rejected Cohen’s request to avoid a prison term and accused him of using his power and influence “for deceptive ends.”
Michael Cohen, US President Donald Trump’s former attorney and fixer. (Andres Kudacki/The New York Times)
The prosecutors sought about four years in prison for Cohen when he is sentenced next week for lying to Congress about the extent of Trump’s business dealings in Moscow, as well as for campaign finance violations and other charges.
Once Trump’s highly trusted aide, Cohen has met seven times with prosecutors for the special counsel who are investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether anyone tied to the Trump campaign conspired with the Kremlin-run operation. He also assisted federal prosecutors in New York in an inquiry that focuses on payments to cover up a potential sex scandal that could have ruined Trump’s chances of becoming president.
Trump, who routinely attacks the special counsel’s investigation, continued Friday to try to undermine public trust in the prosecutors. In a series of Twitter messages, he derided Mueller as a friend of James Comey, the former FBI director who said the president fired him in May 2017 after demanding “loyalty.”
Trump also claimed that Andrew Weissmann, a senior prosecutor on Mueller’s team, had “wrongly destroyed people’s lives” and is “doing the same thing to people now.”
Asked why the president was so upset about the special counsel, Roger Stone, a friend and fellow critic of Mueller, said it had dawned on Trump that the inquiry was not going away, his lawyers’ promises notwithstanding. “He has finally figured out that this is about him,” he said. “I think he has finally woken up.”
Spurred on by the White House, House Republican lawmakers grilled Comey on Friday on what they claim is a pattern of abuse of power by the FBI. Comey reluctantly agreed to testify behind closed doors after the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees agreed to later release a public transcript of his testimony.
The developments capped a busy week for Mueller’s team. On Tuesday, his prosecutors disclosed that Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, had provided substantial assistance with several investigations. Flynn pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.
They took a harsher approach with other defendants, including George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide who was released Friday from a federal prison in Wisconsin after serving 14 days. After he pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 presidential race, prosecutors asked a judge to sentence him to prison, saying he cooperated only grudgingly.
Caroline Polisi, his lawyer, wrote in an email that Papadopoulos is “doing well, and looking forward to moving on with his life.”