Democrats’ and media’s Trump-Russia collusion narrative falls apart
No narrative is more at the heart of the Democrats’ and media’s Trump-Russia collusion charges than reports that Paul Manafort regularly communicated with Moscow during the 2016 campaign.
Now, that narrative has all but collapsed, according to an examination of the year-old official public record.
Christopher Steele’s Democratic Party-financed dossier said Mr. Manafort worked with Russia to coordinate the hacking of Democratic Party computers.
In addition, a number of media reports last year claimed that Mr. Manafort, Mr. Trump’s erstwhile campaign manager, sought Russia’s help to bolster his candidate. U.S. surveillance captured the collusion in copious amounts of phone records, the stories said.
CNN declared in September: “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, which is leading the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the election, has been provided details of these communications.”
But that and similar reports seemed to be dashed by Kevin Downing, Mr. Manafort’s attorney. He filed a brief in U.S. District Court subject to an accuracy review by a federal judge. In a cut-and-dried manner, he said Mr. Mueller has no evidence that Mr. Manafort communicated with Russian officials.
Mr. Downing is defending Mr. Manafort against federal charges that he laundered money paid by Ukrainian politicians and failed to pay income taxes.
In his filing, Mr. Downing said he specifically asked the Mueller team for any such surveillance evidence during mandatory evidence discovery. Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors answered that they had none. Prosecutors risk having charges dismissed if they fail to comply with discovery rules.
“The special counsel has not produced any materials to the defense no tapes, notes, transcripts or any other material evidencing surveillance or intercepts of communications between Mr. Manafort and Russian intelligence officials, Russian government officials [or any other foreign officials],” Mr. Downing’s filing said. “The Office of Special Counsel has advised that there are no materials responsive to the request.”
Mr. Downing called the CNN report and others an “elaborate hoax.”
The CNN report said: “Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.”
In August 2017, the cable news channel said: “CNN has learned that investigators became more suspicious when they turned up intercepted communications that U.S. intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, who served as campaign chairman for three months, to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects, the U.S. officials say. The suspected operatives relayed what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.”
Again, Mr. Mueller, according to Mr. Downing, has asserted to him that prosecutors have no such material.
The New York Times has reported repeatedly that the government owns intercepts of Mr. Manafort and other Trump aides talking to Russians.
A story that appeared hours before President Trump was inaugurated said: “American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.”
The next month, the New York Times doubled down: “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.”
There is more in the official public record to rebut these reports than just Mr. Downing’s filing.
Then-FBI director James Comey was asked by senators about the Times’ February story. He said it was wrong and testified that he took the extraordinary step of warning senior lawmakers against believing it.
Mr. Comey said “many, many” stories on the Russia probe were “just dead wrong.”
Mr. Manafort told the New York Times: “I have never had any relationship with the Russian government or any Russian officials. I was never in contact with anyone, or directed anyone to be in contact with anyone.”
Then there is the charge from former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele paid by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign to produce dirt on candidate Trump. His dossier, based on Kremlin sources, said Mr. Manafort directed the election interference.
Mr. Steele wrote: “speaking in confidence to a compatriot in late July 2016, Source B, an ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP, admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them and the Russian leadership. This was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidates campaign manager PAUL MANAFORT who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries.”
The problem with this allegation is that, according to the public record, Mr. Page and Mr. Manafort did not know each other and have never met and talked to one another.
Mr. Page, a volunteer Trump campaign adviser, testified to this fact under oath to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He also told the FBI.
After more than a year of investigating, Democrats have failed to find any evidence to rebut Mr. Page.
Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s attorney and spokesman, called the idea that Mr. Manafort was coordinating the hacking “absurd.”
“How’s Manafort going to run a hacking operation?” Mr. Giuliani told The Washington Times.
To Mr. Downing, the CNN and New York Times stories are part of an effort by unnamed people to destroy Mr. Manafort’s reputation in the eyes of potential jurors.
“If the representations of the special counsel are accurate and there is not, in fact, any evidence of communications between Mr. Manafort and foreign officials, then the perpetrators of this elaborate hoax must be identified and punished and the substantial unfair prejudice to Mr. Manafort must be remedied,” he said in his court brief.