Feb 16, 2019

Judge fixates on Manafort's ties to suspected Russian intelligence operative

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

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10:30 a.m. ET: 1,363,365— Total deaths: 76,420 — Total recoveries: 292,425Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10:30 a.m. ET: 368,533 — Total deaths: 11,008 — Total recoveries: 19,972Map.
  3. Trump administration latest: Peter Navarro warned White House colleagues in late January about the massive potential risks from the coronavirus.
  4. Public health update: Funeral homes are struggling to handle the pandemic.
  5. 2020 update: Wisconsin Supreme Court blocks the governor's attempt to delay in-person primary voting until June.
  6. Tech update: YouTube has removed thousands of COVID-19 videos for violating policies related to spreading medical misinformation.
  7. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Stephanie Grisham out as White House press secretary

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham is departing her post to return to the East Wing as First Lady Melania Trump's chief of staff, the White House announced Tuesday. The news was first reported by CNN.

Why it matters: Grisham will leave after nine months without ever having held a formal press briefing. Her departure follows the arrival of new White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who has a chance to overhaul a communications shop that's kept a low profile since President Trump ended the tradition of daily press secretary briefings.

WeWork board sues SoftBank

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

SoftBank was sued Tuesday morning by a special committee of WeWork's board of directors for alleged breaches of contract and fiduciary duty related to SoftBank's decision to cancel a $3 billion tender offer for WeWork shares.

Why it matters: SoftBank is viewed by many in the private markets as an unfaithful partner. If this reaches trial, that reputation could either become widely cemented or reversed.