Despite President Donald Trump’s most fervent wishes, the Russia investigation as led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller remains a thorn in the side of his administration. There are indications that even though former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has already gone through two sentencing hearings and faces over six more years in prison, Mueller’s team could be pursuing more leads related to his case. Specifically, they’re seemingly still looking into a 2016 meeting at which Manafort provided Konstantin Kilimnik with internal polling data from the Trump campaign and the two of them discussed a peace plan for Ukraine that would tilt the situation in the Crimean peninsula in Russia’s favor. Kilimnik worked with Manafort for many years and is suspected of having ties to Russian intelligence.
Manafort’s widely publicized plea deal collapse hinged on lies he told prosecutors about his relationship with Kilimnik, apparently concealing what they actually talked about at that 2016 meeting at which Manafort’s longtime deputy Rick Gates was apparently also present. Gates has seemingly also alleged that the meeting also covered the possibility that U.S. sanctions on Russia would be lifted if Donald Trump was elected, which Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing has asserted is ultimately inconsequential.
Still, at a closed-door hearing last month, Mueller team member Andrew Weissman asserted that the lies Manafort told covered issues that go “very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating” — but that thread has not yet been apparently resolved, despite literally hundreds of pages worth of sentencing material.
Former Southern District of New York prosecutor Mimi Rocah shared her take:
‘It’s hard to imagine that something so explosive and central to the mission of his investigation wouldn’t be addressed either in charges against someone (Manafort or others) or in a report. And the fact that the special counsel hasn’t brought it out but it was only revealed inadvertently, reinforces the idea that [Mueller] is saving it for something else.’
The content of the 2016 meeting emerged thanks to a redaction error by Manafort’s team.
The episode only figured in Manafort’s most recent sentencing hearing long enough for presiding judge Amy Berman Jackson to assert that the special counsel’s office conclusively proved that the disgraced operative had lied, which would weigh on his sentencing.
During that same hearing, Jackson herself added that the “no collusion mantra” is simply “not accurate because the investigation is ongoing,” although that didn’t stop Downing from falsely proclaiming that two federal judges had ruled there was no evidence of collusion anyway. In fact, neither Jackson nor Manafort’s first sentencing judge T.S. Ellis made any explicit suggestion they were handling the question of Trump team collusion with Russia. They explicitly threw out that possibility.
There are other lingering issues yet to be resolved in Mueller’s probe too. Trump associate Roger Stone faces charges ranging from obstruction of justice to witness tampering, all of which he’s pleaded not guilty to. Judge Jackson is also handling his case, and she’s set his trial for all the way in early November, months down the road.
In other words, the Mueller probe definitely will not be getting out of the Trump team’s hair any time soon, no matter the timing of any “final report.”
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