President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort “conceded” to investigators that he “discussed or may have discussed” a Ukraine peace plan with a man accused of having links to Russian intelligence during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, according to a botched court filing by Manafort’s lawyers.
The document also uncovered that prosecutors accused Manafort of lying about sharing 2016 election polling data with the same man, Konstantin Kilimnik, who had long served as Manafort’s close adviser during their work together in Ukraine.
Those details and more were accidentally shared with the entire world on Tuesday by Manafort’s lawyers, who clumsily published a court filing in a format that allowed journalists to access sealed portions by simply copy-pasting the redacted lines into a Word document.
The bungled court filing, which was meant to serve as a response to Mueller’s assertions that Manafort lied to investigators, shed new light on Manafort’s activities during the 2016 campaign. His discussions about vital Russian geo-strategic political interests with a man linked to Russian intelligence, and an apparent willingness to divulge information about the U.S. presidential campaign, are among the most startling new details revealed Tuesday.
Manafort also allegedly lied about meeting with Kilimnik in Madrid, according to the document. He acknowledged their rendezvous in Spain took place only after being reminded by investigators that the two men had been in the same city on the same day.
Kilimnik has strenuously denied being a Russian spy. Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing the Trump campaign’s links to Russia, has previously said the FBI believes Kilimnik is tied to Russian intelligence.
Yet it wouldn’t be the first time Kilimnik had expressed interest in developing a peace plan for Ukraine, where government forces are battling pro-Russian rebels in regions along Ukraine’s eastern border. In an interview with journalist Christopher Miller in February 2017, Kilimnik outlined his vision for the embattled country, though he claimed Manafort wasn’t involved.
THE GOP CONVENTION
Tuesday’s revelations cast new light on a moment that has already attracted significant attention from investigators probing the 2016 campaign: the 2016 Republican National Convention.
At the GOP's big event, proposed language that would have laid out a tougher stance toward Moscow by granting Ukraine “lethal defensive weapons” to potentially be used against Russia was scrubbed out of the Party platform. Kilimnik later reportedly suggested to an unnamed associate in Ukraine that he had helped orchestrate that change, according to a story in Politico.
Former national security officials and foreign policy experts have argued that the softening of the GOP platform looked like one-half of a quid pro quo with Russia, one that may have involved swapping a more Moscow-friendly foreign policy for Russia’s clandestine assistance ensuring Trump’s victory in the election.
Gout, depression, and anxiety
Manafort’s lawyers insisted he hadn’t intended to lie about these interactions with Kilimnik, but claimed he’d had a hard time focusing on the facts during his interview sessions because he was depressed and sick.
When not divulging seemingly secret information about Manafort’s relations with Russian operatives in the 2016 election, and Mueller’s apparent interest in them, Manafort’s lawyers painted the picture of a run-down man, plagued by physical ailments and anxiety.
“[F] or several months Mr. Manafort has suffered from severe gout, at times confining him to a wheelchair,” his attorney’s wrote as one explanation for his unintentional misstatements during interviews with Mueller’s team.
“He also suffers from depression and anxiety and, due to the facility’s visitation regulations, has had very little contact with his family,” the statement added.
Being investigated by a swarm of the nation’s top lawyers, and facing a lengthy jail term for crimes dating back years would certainly explain Manafort’s anxiety — an ailment that couldn’t have been helped by his lawyer’s apparent snafu Tuesday.
Manafort's lawyers appeared to notice their grave mistake within minutes, removing the botched document and refiling it with working redactions. So much for trying.
Cover: Paul Manafort, left, leaves the Alexandria Federal Courthouse with his attorney Kevin Downing, center, on Friday, May 4, 2018, in Alexandria, Va. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)