Judge sets hearing behind closed doors in Manafort case
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge said Friday she will hold a hearing behind closed doors to determine whether former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort intentionally lied to investigators, including about sharing polling data with a business associate the U.S. says has ties to Russian intelligence.
Attorneys with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office say Manafort breached his plea deal by repeatedly making false statements after he began cooperating with them in September. Manafort’s lawyers say he simply had an inconsistent recollection of facts and events from several years ago, and that he suffers from depression and anxiety and had little time to prepare for questioning on the days he met with investigators.
The allegations threaten his chances of getting leniency at sentencing. Attorneys with the special counsel told Judge Amy Berman Jackson the deal was no longer a factor, but they hadn’t decided how to adjust their sentencing request.
Manafort’s attorneys conceded the special counsel had the authority under the terms of the deal to revoke it if they determined that Manafort was lying and did so in good faith.
But the judge said that she isn’t yet convinced, and her decision will impact how much time he gets behind bars.
She said some of Manafort’s arguments, particularly the idea that some defendants misstate facts and then correct them later on “have some force.”
“Investigators shouldn’t have to pull teeth” to get the truth,” the judge said, but “not all the issues rise to the level of actual false statements.”
But she said there were other times where Manafort “affirmatively advanced” a version that prosecutors believe was false. “He may have lied, pure and simple,” in those instances, she said.
Jackson said Friday she had been given more than 800 pages of evidence on the matter, and set the sealed proceeding Feb. 4 so that attorneys could talk freely about the accusations. She told a courtroom full of reporters she knew the measure wouldn’t be exactly popular, and promised a redacted transcript as soon as possible.
The court documents already filed on the matter have been heavily blacked-out. One allegation that did emerge from a poorly redacted defense filing was especially striking — that Manafort shared polling data from the 2016 campaign with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate and co-defendant charged by Mueller, and then lied about it. Kilimnik is not in U.S. custody and has denied links to Russian intelligence.
The attorneys requested — and Jackson granted — to seal even the portions unintentionally made public. However, Manafort’s attorneys said they would be comfortable placing details about his mental and physical health on the record.
Jackson questioned whether the special counsel would charge Manafort with additional crimes as a result of the alleged violation and wondered whether her determination on whether he lied would somehow prejudice any additional charges.
Attorney Andrew Weissmann said there were no plans to do so — but didn’t rule it out entirely. Either way, he said, he believed her determination would not affect it.
“There were a lot of promises that were made,” he said. “I’m not in any way saying it will happen. But we do want to preserve that ability.”
Manafort, who is jailed in Virginia as he awaits sentencing, had asked to skip Friday’s appearance in federal court in Washington. But Jackson denied the request, and said in court it was not meant as punitive — she believed it was advantageous for him to be present to quickly confer with his attorneys given the circumstances.
Once a high-flying political consultant with a taste for luxury clothing, Manafort, 69, asked for permission to attend court in a suit rather than his jail uniform, and the request was granted. He walked slowly into court using a cane, wearing a dark suit with a magenta tie.
Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy in Washington in September as part of the deal. He was convicted of eight financial crimes at a Virginia trial last year. He faces years behind bars.
It’s not clear how or whether the accusations of lying in Washington will impact the Virginia sentencing, expected just four days after the Feb. 4 sealed hearing.
Manafort’s attorneys did not comment outside court.