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Paul Manafort. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images

In a partially-redacted transcript of a hearing this week, Judge Amy Berman Jackson called direct attention to the significance of lies Paul Manafort told about longtime business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who the Mueller investigation believes has ties to Russian intelligence.

"[W]e've now spent considerable time talking about multiple clusters of false or misleading or incomplete or need-to be-prodded-by-counsel statements, all of which center around the defendant's relationship or communications with Mr. Kilimnik. This is a topic at the undisputed core of the Office of Special Counsel's investigation..."

Why it matters: Manafort, who prosecutors said on Friday could face between 19 and 24 years in prison for financial crimes, had the chance to cooperate with the special counsel in exchange for leniency. And yet he chose to throw that opportunity away and risk spending the rest of his life in prison by lying to investigators, including — among other details — about his interactions with Kilimnik.

What we know: Kilimnik served as Manafort's liason to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and was in frequent communication with Manafort while he was working as Trump's unpaid campaign manager, according to the Washington Post. He served in the Soviet army and is believed to have been an officer in the GRU, the Russian intelligence agency indicted by Mueller for hacking and leading the interference effort in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

  • Deputy Trump campaign manager Rick Gates, who is a cooperating witness, told the special counsel that Manafort shared 2016 campaign polling data with Kilimnik. Manafort subsequently lied to investigators about doing so — one of the false statements that caused him to breach his plea deal.

What we don't know: It's unclear when Manafort shared the data and whether it was public or private campaign information. Notably, however, Manafort's defense attorney told Judge Jackson in a hearing that the data was too complex to be of any use to Kilimnik: "It frankly, to me, is gibberish ... It’s not easily understandable."

  • Jackson responded: "That’s what makes it significant and unusual.”

The bottom line: Jackson called Manafort's lies "a problematic attempt to shield his Russian conspirator from liability," raising "legitimate questions about where his loyalties lie." It's a remarkable statement from a federal judge who knows far more than the public about what exactly Robert Mueller has uncovered.

Go deeper: Every big move in the Mueller investigation

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

4 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.