Sealed hearing: Manafort meeting at ‘heart' of Mueller investigation

Mueller alleges Manafort continued work related to Ukraine despite 2017 indictment

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A top prosecutor in the special counsel investigation into 2016 election interference has told a federal judge that a summer 2016 meeting in ny between then-candidate Donald Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and a man described as a former Russian intelligence officer strikes at "the heart of what the Special Counsel's Office is investigating", a newly released court filing shows.

The Aug. 2, 2016 meeting between Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik was one of several at which the two discussed a topic related to Ukraine, according to the transcript of a sealed February 4 court hearing in Manafort's criminal case in Washington.

"This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what Special Counsel [Robert Mueller's] Office is investigating", Andrew Weissmann, one of the prosecutors on Mueller's team, told the judge, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Court documents show that prosecutors contend Manafort passed polling data related to the presidential campaign to Kilimnik during the campaign, and that the two worked on a poll in Ukraine in 2018. The hearing was to determine whether Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, lied to prosecutors during debriefings after he pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate.

At one point in the discussion, Weissmann describes how Manafort told prosecutors that his topic of discussion with Kilimnik was a "backdoor [REDACTED]. and because of that, he was not going to countenance it".

The meeting is of such interest still to the prosecutors that Manafort testified about it before a federal grand jury late a year ago.

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Manafort has said he never lied to prosecutors. Manafort faces a separate sentencing in Virginia for bank- and tax-fraud convictions.

Mueller's prosecutors, who have charged more than 30 people, are investigating whether anyone in the Trump campaign conspired with Russians. It makes clear that prosecutors have homed in on the repeated contacts between Manafort and his longtime associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, who the Federal Bureau of Investigation says has ties to Russia's military intelligence agency. Gates also spoke to investigators about Manafort sharing the polling data, according to the transcript.

Kilimnik flew on the private jet of Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska for at least one leg of the trip to attend the August 2, 2016 meeting with Manafort, Vice News has reported. This, quite directly, implies that Trump has an interest in one of his former aides engaging in a criminal cover-up - a circumstance that is hard to imagine unless the president himself is at least indirectly implicated in criminal behavior.

The August 2016 meeting with Kilimnik also mattered to prosecutors because the Federal Bureau of Investigation has linked Kilimnik to the Russian intelligence service, the GRU, Weissmann said.

The transcript also reveals that Manafort met with Kilimnik at Trump's January 2017 inauguration, which is reportedly under investigation separately by the Southern District of NY. The New York Times has reported the payment involved Manafort's use of money from a pro-Trump political action committee to help pay his legal bills.

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