In a court filing this week, Paul Manafort’s lawyers responded to special counsel Robert Mueller’s claims that he violated his cooperation agreement by repeatedly lying.
But though parts of the public version of this filing appeared to be redacted by black bars, it quickly became apparent that the text underneath those redactions could be revealed by simply copying and pasting from the document.
The hidden text reveals that Mueller believes Manafort shared “polling data” that was “related to the 2016 presidential campaign” with Konstantin Kilimnik, a former colleague of his who Mueller has claimed is tied to Russian intelligence.
The redacted text also reveals that Manafort initially didn’t admit to meeting with Kilimnik in Madrid, and that Mueller has questioned Manafort about a “Ukrainian peace plan” that Kilimnik was involved in.
While Manafort’s lawyers are not admitting that their client lied to the special counsel — they claim some of Mueller’s specific accusations are weak, and others were simple forgetfulness on Manafort’s part — they also said they won’t try to contest Mueller’s judgment by requesting a hearing, at least not right now.
Instead, they asked to move on with the sentencing process. Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced for his tax and bank fraud convictions in Virginia in February, and for his separate Washington, DC, plea deal in March.
The filing also claimed that Manafort is suffering from “severe gout” as well as “depression and anxiety.” Manafort has been incarcerated for nearly seven months.
The backstory on Manafort and Kilimnik
After being convicted of financial crimes at a Virginia trial in August, Manafort struck a plea deal with Mueller to avoid a second trial on separate charges in September — and, as part of that deal, committed to cooperate with the government.
But the deal fell apart because, Mueller claimed in a December court filing, Manafort lied to them on at least five separate matters.
Matters one and two involved the same person: Konstantin Kilimnik. Kilimnik worked with Manafort in Ukraine for many years, and, according to the Atlantic, Manafort referred to him as “my Russian brain.”
Kilimnik, a former Russian army translator, has been repeatedly linked to the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service. Mueller’s team claimed in a court filing last year that, per the FBI, Kilimnik still has “ties to a Russian intelligence service.” Rick Gates (Manafort’s former business partner) has also reportedly told others that Kilimnik is a former GRU officer.
There have long been questions about Manafort’s contacts with Kilimnik during the campaign. Soon after he signed on with Trump, Manafort emailed Kilimnik asking, “how do we use to get whole” and “Has OVD operation seen?” These are the initials of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire to whom Manafort was heavily indebted.
The pair continued to exchange emails about Deripaska, often in vague, coded language, as the summer of 2016 went on. “I met today with the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar several years ago,” Kilimnik wrote in July. “I have several important messages from him to you.” A few weeks later, the two met in New York, but we don’t know what happened there. (Manafort was ousted from the Trump campaign later in August.)
After Manafort agreed to cooperate with Mueller last September, he was questioned extensively about Kilimnik — and he failed to fess up about the details of their meetings and contacts. There are three specifics contained in the redacted filing from Manafort’s lawyers:
- Mueller is alleging that Manafort “lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign.”
- Manafort met Kilimnik in Madrid, but only “acknowledged” this after the government told him they knew they were both there on the same day.
- Manafort discussed “a Ukraine peace plan” with Kilimnik, but only “conceded” this after Mueller’s team showed him documents to that effect.
Manafort’s lawyers suggest that their client didn’t lie about any of this, necessarily, but that he may have just forgotten it all until being reminded. “It is not surprising at all that Mr. Manafort was unable to recall specific details prior to having his recollection refreshed,” they write. “These occurrences happened during a period when Mr. Manafort was managing a U.S. presidential campaign.”
Other information in the new filing
Mueller has also claimed that Manafort lied to investigators about three other matters unrelated to Kilimnik.
First, the special counsel’s office questioned Manafort about a certain $125,000 payment made on his behalf in 2017. This payment is connected to a pro-Trump Super PAC that Manafort helped set up, per the New York Times.
The details of this aren’t entirely clear. But Manafort’s lawyers claim that he arranged the payment to help pay off his debt, and that he reported it as income on his 2017 tax return. Under a redaction, they say the government has told them that witnesses have given them a different version of events.
Second, Manafort was questioned about another unknown Justice Department investigation. His attorneys claim that he quickly corrected a misstatement here after his recollection was refreshed, and that “the underlying conduct at issue did not involve any potential crime known to him.”
Finally, Manafort told Mueller’s team that he had no contacts with any Trump administration official in 2017 or 2018, and that he didn’t ask anyone else to get in touch with any administration official on his behalf. Mueller’s team says this is a lie. Manafort’s lawyers dispute one of their examples and say another is “hearsay,” but there aren’t further specifics on these alleged contacts here.