Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s disgraced former campaign chair, was drafting an English-language op-ed on Ukraine with a Russian who has ties to the Kremlin’s intelligence service as late as last Thursday, more than four weeks after he was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller on money laundering and other charges.
Mueller’s team learned about the development late last week and is now urging a federal judge to deny Manafort’s request to lift his house arrest, according to a newly released court document from the Office of the Special Counsel.
“As late as November 30, 2017, Manafort and a colleague were ghostwriting an editorial in English regarding his political work for Ukraine. Manafort worked on the draft with a long-time Russian colleague of Manafort’s, who is currently based in Russia and assessed to have ties to a Russian intelligence service,” the document reads.
Mueller’s team believed Manafort wanted to ghostwrite the op-ed to change public opinion about his work in Ukraine, according to the brief. But Oleg Voloshyn, a former Ukrainian official, told Bloomberg that he drafted the piece and only asked sent it to Manafort for his thoughts.
"He just advised me to add that the [Viktor] Yanukovych government also worked actively with the US on nuclear disarmament and with NATO,” Voloshyn told Bloomberg about Manafort. “And since I knew of that as well, I agreed those could be valuable contributions to strengthen my message.”
Still, Manafort’s participation could’ve led to a harsher punishment for Manafort. His lawyers had struck an $11 million bail agreement with Mueller on November 30 after Manafort was indicted on 12 charges in October that mostly focused on alleged money laundering, failure to disclose financial assets, and false statements regarding work for the government of Ukraine and a Ukrainian political party. The indictment alleged that Manafort had laundered more than $18 million since 2006.
The agreement was supposed to end Manafort’s house arrest, but now Mueller’s team opposes that move.
If found guilty, the two men face decades in prison and millions in fines.
This seems like a bad move by Manafort
Let’s take a second to let this all sink in.
Manafort is under house arrest in part because of his work for Ukraine and is still under investigation in Mueller’s probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.
And what does he decide to do? He continues to chat with a Russian with Kremlin connections — perhaps his longtime colleague Konstantin Kilimnik. Manafort reportedly worked with him during the election to make friends with a Russian oligarch who has ties to Putin.
On top of that, Manafort attempts to write an op-ed about his work in Ukraine — which is literally the thing that got him into trouble with the government.
Why Manafort chose to put his cushy house arrest in jeopardy to ghostwrite a piece is very puzzling. There was likely very little upside — but clearly there was a lot of downside.
If Mueller’s team gets it wish, Manafort will be stuck in his home until his court date, which will likely be in May 2018 — and may now need a new friend to talk to.