Judge to hear Feb. 4 on alleged lies in Mueller probe | News Coverage from USA

Judge to hear Feb. 4 on alleged lies in Mueller probe

WASHINGTON – A federal judge on Friday set a hearing Feb. 4 to hear lawyers for Paul Manafort and special counsel Robert Mueller to clash over whether President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman lied repeatedly to the investigators he had promised to assist. 

Manafort pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy and obstruction of justice after striking an agreement that required him to cooperate with investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election and other possible crimes.

Mueller sought to void the plea agreement in November after prosecutors alleged that Manafort had misled them about his interactions with a Russian business associate, his contacts with Trump’s administration and other subjects. Manafort’s lawyers mistakenly revealed that one of the lies he was accused of telling related to his sending polling data to a Russian associate during Trump’s campaign.

Manafort’s lawyers insisted he tried to cooperate as agreed. But Mueller’s team filed 800 pages – including a 31-page statement from FBI Agent Jeffrey Weiland, who helped interview Manafort, and an exhibit with 157 pages that are publicly visible – to document the misrepresentations.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson scheduled a hearing Friday, potentially to gather testimony about the dispute, the latest turn in legal saga in which Manafort once vowed to hold out against pressure to cooperate with prosecutors, then promised to do so, and now is accused of breaking that agreement.

Manafort had asked Jackson to skip the hearing and remain in jail, but she ordered him to attend. A graying Manafort walked with a cane and wore a dark suit with pink tie.

Jackson scheduled another hearing Feb. 4 to collect evidence. That hearing will be sealed so that prosecutors and defense lawyers can argue about five areas of disagreement in Manafort’s statements that have been outlined in heavily redacted filings.

Jackson said “investigators shouldn’t have to pull teeth,” while also acknowledging that it could be tough for Manafort to remember incidents long before questioning.

“He may have lied, pure and simple,” Jackson said, which is why she wants to collect testimony.

Jackson said the dispute may be academic to reducing the sentence on two obstruction charges, which carry maximum five-year terms.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors would like Jackson to rule on Manafort’s cooperation before his sentencing in another case in Virginia Feb. 8. His sentencing before Jackson is scheduled March 5.

Richard Westling, a lawyer representing Manafort, said Jackson could rule based on paper filings rather than holding a hearing.

“We contend he did not intentionally lie,” Westling said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Weissmann said prosecutors were ready to hold a hearing Friday, but Jackson said she might not be ready. Weissmann also said the government could possibly charge Manafort for lying to FBI agents or the grand jury.

“There is no current intention of doing that,” Weissmann said.

Manafort met with prosecutors and FBI agents on 12 occasions, including three before entering the plea agreement. He also testified before a grand jury on Oct. 26 and Nov. 2. Prosecutors informed Manafort’s lawyers on Nov. 8 that they “believed that Manafort had lied in multiple ways and on multiple occasions.”

Manafort is a key figure in Mueller’s probe because he was Trump’s campaign manager from March until August 2016, during a crucial part of the campaign when Trump secured the Republican nomination and the GOP held its convention in Cleveland. Manafort had a history of dealing with Russians and attended a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower during which the attendees were to discuss information promised to damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The disputes with Manafort covered interactions with Russian business partner Konstantin Kilimnik, who is also under indictment for work with Manafort in Ukraine and has denied links to the Russian intelligence service; a $125,000 wire transfer; and Manafort’s contacts with senior Trump administration officials.

Manafort acknowledged that he hadn’t initially remembered meetings or communications with Kilimnik. For example, Manafort recalled meeting Kilimnik in Madrid only after being told Kilimnik was there at the same time.

Manafort’s lawyers said Mueller alleged he “lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign,” according to the filing. His lawyers said it wasn’t surprising Manafort didn’t remember sharing polling data because he was busy with the campaign.

Trump has denied knowing that Manafort shared polling data. Trump has repeatedly called the Mueller probe a “witch hunt” and said his campaign didn’t collude with Russia.

Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced in a separate case in Virginia in February. A federal jury there found him guilty of eight bank and tax-fraud charges in August related to what prosecutors described as a multiyear scheme carried out while working as a consultant to a pro-Russia faction in Ukraine. After the Virginia jury found him guilty, Manafort agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and obstruction charges in Washington. He’s scheduled to be sentenced on those charges on March 5.

 

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