By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters on Friday ) – U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller late on Friday unveiled a trove of evidence against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort to convince a judge that he violated a gag order by ghost-writing an article to bolster his public image.
The evidence Mueller revealed in a filing, which is a fraction of what he said earlier on Friday he has collected, is the first clear indication of the depth of his investigation and the nature of what his investigators have found.
In the 41-page filing, prosecutors in Mueller’s office produced emails, drafts with tracked edits and records showing that a computer user named “paul manafort” created a version of the op-ed and made numerous changes on November 29 “between 8:41 p.m. and 9:11 p.m.”, and “last saved at 9:12 p.m.”.
They also produced records indicating that the op-ed, published on Thursday in the English-language Kyiv Post over Mueller’s objections, tracked talking points Manafort and his business associate Richard Gates wrote in August 2016. That was after Manafort was forced to resign from Trump’s campaign because of political work he had done for pro-Russian figures including former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Mueller also claimed in the filing that Manafort collaborated on the piece with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian to whom Mueller alluded in a filing earlier this week as having ties to Russian intelligence.
The filing did not disclose how Mueller’s team acquired the data, and Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, declined to comment on it.
In the filing, Mueller’s team argued that U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Amy Berman Jackson should deny a request by Manafort to lift his house arrest, saying the op-ed violated her gag order and demonstrated that he cannot be trusted.
“Bail is fundamentally about trust,” the filing said. “Even taken in the light most favorable to Manafort, this conduct shows little respect for this Court and a penchant for skirting (if not breaking) rules.”
Manafort’s attorney Kevin Downing on Thursday denied that his client had violated the gag order, saying an article published in a Ukrainian newspaper would not substantially prejudice the case in the United States. [L1N1O72H6]
Downing acknowledged in a filing on Thursday that Manafort had helped edit the piece, but said it was his client’s First Amendment right to defend himself.
He did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Mueller’s second filing.
Mueller’s team responded to Downing’s First Amendment argument by citing a Supreme Court case that found that free speech does not “disable a district court ” from taking steps to protect cases that could be harmed by “the creation of a ‘carnival atmosphere’ in high profile cases.”
A federal grand jury indicted Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates in October as part of Mueller’s investigation into accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Russia has denied any meddling and Trump has dismissed any suggestions of collusion.
The charges against Manafort include conspiracy to launder money and failing to register as a foreign agent working on behalf of former pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s government, who was ousted in 2014.
Manafort and Gates are under house arrest and electronic monitoring, but they have been negotiating to have those conditions lifted.
All parties were ordered by the judge on Nov. 8 not to discuss the case in public or with the media in a way that could substantially prejudice a fair trial.
Earlier this week, Mueller’s team discovered the draft op-ed was in the works and ordered Manafort’s lawyers to shut it down.
It was published on Thursday under the byline of Oleg Voloshyn, a former spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign affairs ministry. [L1N1O71RK]
On December 5, Voloshyn emailed the U.S. Embassy claiming credit for writing the piece and accusing Mueller of “deliberately twist(ing) the reality,” according to an email in the filing.
The article praised Manafort’s work helping Ukraine secure better relations with the European Union and said he lobbied for pro-Western values, not Russian interests.
Documents Mueller filed with the court showed that Gates and Manafort worked together in August and September of 2016 to craft “narratives” to deflect negative press about Manafort after his resignation from the campaign.
“Need to beat back the idea that this was nefarious work,” a document said. “Your efforts were in support and promotion of pro-democratic values around the world.”
The “narratives” also claimed that Manafort “never worked in Russia or for Russians,” that his work was “centered on pro-Ukraine efforts to enter the EU,” and that he “never took cash payments.”
Manafort and Gates are scheduled to appear in court on Monday for a status conference hearing, where the judge is likely to address the dispute.
Earlier on Friday, Mueller revealed in another filing that his office has turned over more than 400,000 emails, financial records and other documents to Manafort’s lawyers to demonstrate what evidence the government has against him ahead of a 2018 trial.
In addition, they provided imaged copies of 36 electronic devices such as laptops, telephones and thumb drives, copies of 15 search or seizure warrants, and 2,000 so-called “hot” documents, or those that contain potentially crucial evidence.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Warren Strobel; Editing by John Walcott, Toni Reinhold)