Written by Sharon LaFraniere
Paul Manafort’s lawyers on Wednesday strongly disputed claims by prosecutors working for the special counsel that Manafort repeatedly lied to them, including about the transfer of campaign polling data to a Russian citizen with ties to Kremlin-run intelligence services in spring 2016.
The lawyers argued in a new court filing that the prosecutors had wrongly interpreted honest memory lapses and innocent misstatements by Manafort as deliberate attempts to deceive them about his interactions with the Russian citizen, Konstantin Kilimnik, who received the polling data in 2016 as Donald Trump was closing in on the Republican presidential nomination.
“Failure of memory is not akin to a false statement,” Manafort’s lawyers said.
If the federal judge in Washington who is overseeing the case, Amy Berman Jackson, decides that Manafort intentionally misled the prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller after agreeing to cooperate with them, she would presumably be less likely to show leniency on March 5, when she is to sentence him on two conspiracy charges.
But as a practical matter, Manafort, 69, stood little chance of receiving less than 10 years for those crimes even before prosecutors accused him of breaching his plea agreement by lying to them about his dealings with Kilimnik and other matters. He is also awaiting sentencing for eight other felonies.
Jackson has scheduled a hearing for Friday on the prosecutors’ accusations.
The defense team’s 10-page filing was heavily redacted, but information inadvertently revealed in a previous court document made it possible to understand some of the lawyers’ references.
They suggested that prosecutors had concluded that Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, had lied about the polling data transfer after they compared his statements to those of Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime deputy both in private business and during the campaign. The New York Times has reported that Manafort instructed Gates to transfer the information to Kilimnik, a longtime business associate of both men.
“The OSC relies on Gates’ testimony in an effort to contradict Mr. Manafort,” the defense lawyers wrote, referring to the Office of Special Counsel. Why they contend the prosecutors were wrong to do so is redacted.
The prosecutors have also accused Manafort of lying about how $125,000 donated to a pro-Trump political action committee was used to cover some of Manafort’s debts for his legal defense. Investigators were apparently trying to determine whether the payment, made in 2017, constituted a kickback to Manafort from associates who ran the PAC.
But others familiar with the payment said that money was drawn from a commission owed to a PAC official who wanted to help Manafort. Manafort’s lawyers wrote that he did not lie to the prosecutors about the payment, he simply “had difficulty remembering the details of what occurred.”