Unsealed Manafort Transcripts Allude to the ‘Heart’ of the Mueller Investigation

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The special counsel’s office divulged several details about the Russia investigation in support of allegations that President Donald Trump‘s former campaign chair Paul Manafort “repeatedly” lied after signing a plea deal and cooperation agreement with Robert Mueller.

Among those details are more information about a suspicious meeting said to be at “the heart” of the probe itself–and the revelation that investigators have a “motive” in mind.

Midway through a 143-page transcript of partial and heavily-redacted testimony from a non-public hearing held on Monday, Mueller’s deputy Andrew Weissman honed in on what the court termed Manafort’s “lies of consequence.”

One such alleged lie concerned an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and Russian political operative Konstantin Kilimnik–who is believed to have ties to Russian intelligence agencies.

Manafort’s alleged lies about the Kilimnik meeting apparently led the special counsel to consider him generally untrustworthy.

“[W]e would like the Court to focus on the [redacted] meeting, and the denial of Mr. [Manafort] having met with Mr. Kilimnik,” the transcript notes. “This is a good example: If that was the only instance…and it was just having forgotten about one meeting…we could have taken a very different view.”

The transcript continued:

It’s hard to sort of put yourself into what you would have done. But this, to us, took on extra weight because of the context in which it was in, and the important of what was being discussed. And even after Mr. Manafort had to concede that there was this meeting, if you note what he says happened, Mr. Manafort says: Well, I had things to discuss, but Mr. Kilimnik was the one who wanted to discuss [redacted], I didn’t.

“So again, diminishing…his interest in this,” Weissman noted.

At this point in the transcript, Judge Amy Berman Jackson interjects to note that she’s confused as to why it’s material that Manafort may have lied about his relationship with Kilimnik or what he told Kilimnik about his employment at the time of the controversial meeting.

To which the special counsel’s deputy replied:

[T]his goes to the larger view of what we think is going on, and what we think the motive here is. This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the Special Counsel’s Office is investigating. And in 2016 there is an in-person meeting with someone who the Government [believes and] is understood by the FBI [to] have a relationship with Russian intelligence…

“And there is an in-person meeting at an unusual time for somebody who is the campaign chairman to be spending time, and to be doing it in person,” Weissmann continued. “That meeting and what happened at that meeting is of significance to the special counsel.”

And that’s not all. According to the special counsel’s office, Rick Gates was at the August 2016 meeting as well.

Later on, Judge Jackson again presses Weissmann as to whether certain aspects of Manafort’s testimony to the special counsel–during the honeymoon phase of the cooperation agreement–were actually material false statements under federal law or if such testimony could reasonably be interpreted as the type of information that might easily be corrected with a memory refresher.

Weissmann was adamant about Manafort’s answers being the former — that is, deliberate subterfuge.

The transcript continued:

[T]here arent’ that many in-person meetings with Mr. Kilimnik and they’re [also] happening right after the inauguration..so the idea that this wouldn’t be on [Manafort’s] mind, especially since we know Mr. Manafort took the precaution in August of 2016 of leaving separately — Mr. Gates and Mr. Manafort leaving separately from [the meeting with] Mr. Kilimnik..is something that one would imagine that [Manafort] would remember.

[image via via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

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