There were plenty of fireworks on Tuesday related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia investigation and, once again, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort found himself in the middle of it all. At least one former federal prosecutor who watched the day’s events unfold reacted to the court filing detail about Manafort sharing 2016 polling data with his Ukrainian lobbying associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian said to have ties to Russian intelligence.
Former federal prosecutor and current CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said Wednesday on New Day that this was a revelation with potentially serious implications. While Manafort’s attorneys spent the majority of their response to Mueller’s allegations arguing that the special counsel has no proof Manafort “intentionally lied,” they also noticeably failed to redact information.
Here’s what one of those redactions said:
In fact, during a proffer meeting held with the Special Counsel on September 11, 2018, Mr. Manafort explained to the Government attorneys and investigators that he would have given the Ukrainian peace plan more thought, had the issue not been raised during the period he was engaged with work related to the presidential campaign. Issues and communications related to Ukrainian political events simply were not at the forefront of Mr. Manafort’s mind during the period at issue and it is not surprising at all that Mr. Manafort was unable to recall specific details prior to having his recollection refreshed. The same is true with regard to the Government’s allegation that Mr. Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign.
In short, Manafort said that he didn’t lie about sharing polling data related to the Trump campaign, he just needed his memory jogged. It wasn’t the first time, however, that Manafort has been accused of offering high-level Russians insight on the Trump campaign. Manafort allegedly offered Vladimir Putin-connected Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska “private briefings” on the 2016 Trump campaign — an oligarch he apparently owed millions of dollars.
Honig said that the detail of Manafort sharing polling data is significant.
“The campaign chair is the campaign. The campaign was sharing polling data with someone known to be connected to Russian intelligence,” he said. “Is it collusion in the everyday non-legal sense before Rudy Giuliani started using the word? Sure. What could be more collusive than the top guy in a campaign with a Russian operative giving him the most sensitive data a campaign has?”
“Could it be a crime? Yes,” Honig continued. “It is a federal crime to solicit or attempt to receive foreign election aid.”
Honig expounded on these thoughts to Law&Crime.
“In the everyday colloquial sense of the word ‘collusion,’ it is hard to think of a clearer example than the campaign chair sharing internal polling data – which is extraordinarily sensitive and proprietary and typically guides campaign strategy – with a Russian intel operative like Kilimnik,” he said. “Political campaigns typically guard that kind of information like it’s the Hope Diamond but here Manafort freely shared it with a Russian intel agent (and accused criminal who has been indicted by Mueller on other charges).”
Indeed, Mueller charged both Kilimnik and Manafort with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice by tampering with witnesses.
Honig said that the real legal trouble isn’t “collusion,” but soliciting foreign election aid.
“More technically and legally, this could go to the crime of soliciting foreign election contributions or assistance. The argument would be that Manafort shared this info to enable Russians to hone and target their dissemination of hacked emails and their social media trolling efforts – clearly a benefit (technically a contribution) to Trump’s campaign,” he said.
You can watch the rest of the CNN segment above.
[Image via CNN screengrab]