WASHINGTON Robert Mueller to Paul Manafort: I’m watching you.
Revealing that they know every word Manafort changed in a recently published op-ed, prosecutors for the special counsel argued Friday that the former Trump campaign chairman’s attempt to mount a public relations campaign to defend himself while under house arrest “raises serious concerns about his trustworthiness.”
Prosecutors are now pushing for him to remain confined to his home after they discovered he was heavily involved in the drafting of an opinion piece about his involvement in Ukrainian politics. They say the op-ed was part of a public effort Manafort was trying to orchestrate that would have violated a judge’s order to refrain from trying his case in the press.
In court papers earlier this week, Mueller’s office had accused Manafort of ghostwriting the op-ed with a colleague who they said had ties to Russian intelligence.
Manafort’s attorneys had argued that Manafort had only edited the piece after receiving it from a former Ukrainian public official whom he knew through his consulting work in Ukraine. They also said Manafort hadn’t violated the judge’s order and was exercising his free speech rights to defend himself.
On Friday, prosecutors revealed that they knew nearly every detail of that editing process.
Writing in Microsoft Word, Manafort changed several sections of the essay, going line-by-line for over 30 minutes on the night of Nov. 29, court papers show.
Each change was tracked in the document, which prosecutors later compared to talking points Manafort drafted last year to respond to news reports about his consulting work in Ukraine. They found they mirrored his edits, and appeared to show he had a “public relations campaign” in mind to help his case.
Prosecutors learnt of the effort last week, and earlier this week, they received assurances from Manafort’s attorney that the op-ed wouldn’t be published.
Nevertheless, the op-ed was published Thursday in an English-language newspaper in Ukraine under the byline of Oleg Voloshyn, a former Ukrainian official.
Voloshyn told The Associated Press this week that he wrote the op-ed in Manafort’s defence and insisted Manafort did not help him draft it.
“I wrote it on my own initiative,” said Voloshyn, who headed the press office at the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry under President Viktor Yanukovych, Manafort’s former client in Ukraine.
Voloshyn did acknowledge that he sent Manafort a draft of the op-ed through Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime employee of Manafort’s in Ukraine. Kilimnik appears to be the person prosecutors referred to as “assessed to have ties” to Russian intelligence.
Prosecutors have not detailed how they made that assessment. Kilimnik declined comment this week.
In a Dec. 5 email included in the court filing, Voloshyn wrote that he felt an “urgent need to inform US embassy” that he had drafted the op-ed on his own initiative and that he felt obliged to send it to Kilimnik, who forwarded it to Manafort “just to have a look as his name is mentioned there.”
“There was no plot or big scenario behind it,” Voloshyn wrote. “As far as I know Manafort just read it and that’s all. I dare claim Mueller commission deliberately twisted the reality.”
In addition to the op-ed, prosecutors also detailed that they have amassed hundreds of thousands of documents and executed 15 search warrants as part of their investigation into Manafort and his longtime business associate, Rick Gates.
The government has gathered financial records from Cyprus and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and also seized multiple electronic devices during a raid of Manafort’s Virginia home this past summer.
Manafort and Gates face multiple counts of conspiring to launder money, conspiring against the US and giving false statements to the government. Both men pleaded not guilty.