Manafort's Russia meeting at heart of probe

Mueller alleges Manafort continued work related to Ukraine despite 2017 indictment

A top prosecutor in the special counsel investigation into 2016 election interference has told a federal judge that a summer 2016 meeting in ny between then-candidate Donald Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and a man described as a former Russian intelligence officer strikes at "the heart of what the Special Counsel's Office is investigating", a newly released court filing shows.

The partially redacted transcript, of a lengthy hearing that took place behind closed doors on Monday, shows that Mueller's team contended that when Manafort was debriefed by prosecutors and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, he seemed to be trying to avoid providing information that could be damaging to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian national who was deeply involved in Manafort's political consulting work in Ukraine.

"This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what Special Counsel [Robert Mueller's] Office is investigating", Andrew Weissmann, one of the prosecutors on Mueller's team, told the judge, according to a transcript of the hearing.

In the same court documents, Manafort's defense counsel wrote that their client "discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Mr. Kilimnik on more than one occasion", but details of the alleged plan and the timeframe in which Manafort and Kilimnik discussed it were not described.

If a judge determines Manafort lied after his plea, it could affect the sentencing he would receive after his admission that he conspired to defraud the United States, violate lobbying laws and obstruct justice in connection with years of undisclosed work for a pro-Russian political party and Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych. The transcript of the hearing, which took place Monday, was released by court order Thursday, but much of it was redacted to protect the ongoing investigation, including several key portions about Manafort and Kilimnik.

Manafort's lawyers have countered that any discrepancies were unintentional as he refreshed his memory or recalled specific details in his sessions with investigators and a grand jury.

At the hearing, attorneys discussed whether Manafort may have been motivated to lie in one unspecified instance "to at least augment his chances for a pardon", the transcript states.

They disclosed that Kilimnik traveled to Washington for Trump's January 2017 inauguration and met with Manafort.

Mueller's prosecutors, who have charged more than 30 people, are investigating whether anyone in the Trump campaign conspired with Russians. Kilimnik, who was also indicted in the Manafort case but has been beyond the reach of US law enforcement, has been described by prosecutors as someone with ties to Russian intelligence.

Kilimnik flew on the private jet of Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska for at least one leg of the trip to attend the August 2, 2016 meeting with Manafort, Vice News has reported.

Jackson's ruling could affect Manafort's sentencing on two felony charges stemming from illegal lobbying on behalf of Ukrainian interests.

President Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort has some big problems.

Manafort was convicted in federal court in Virginia in August of bank fraud and tax evasion connected to his work in Ukraine.

At the hearing, Weissmann also said that prosecutors believe that Manafort was lying about a $125,000 payment.

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