For months, the connective tissue between President Trump’s campaign and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange were thought to run through Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant whose role in the 2016 campaign was somewhat murky. But a new report from the Guardian Tuesday dramatically shrinks the degree of separation between Russia and the Trump campaign to a factor of one.
According to the report, Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who was convicted on tax and bank fraud in August, in connection with lobbying work overseas, met directly with Assange repeatedly over a span of years, as recently as the spring of 2016, just as Manafort joined the campaign full time.
Multiple sources told the outlet that Manafort visited Assange at least three times at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where Assange has been holed up for years as a political asylum seeker, including in 2013 and 2015. The last visit is thought to have occurred in March 2016, after Trump had all but secured the GOP nomination and shortly before Assange released thousands of emails hacked by Russian intelligence operatives and published by Wikileaks.
The meetings were not officially logged by embassy staff, but Manafort’s visits were noted by Ecuador’s own intelligence agency and logged in a document obtained by the Guardian. The same document also notes visits by unidentified Russians.
The revelation comes less than 24 hours after news broke that Manafort violated the terms of his plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, and obstruction by the president and his associates.
In exchange for his cooperation in the Mueller probe, Manafort accepted a reduced sentence and avoided further criminal charges of bank fraud. But on Monday, Mueller’s team revealed that Manafort repeatedly lied to investigators, allegations his lawyer has denied.
If confirmed, the Guardian’s report would draw the clearest lines yet between Trump and Russian intelligence operatives.
The U.S. intelligence community is unanimous in its assertion that Russia sought to influence the outcome of the last presidential election to help Trump get elected. In a July 2018 indictment, Mueller’s team revealed that Wikileaks acted as the conduit for Russia’s GRU intelligence agency in releasing the hacked emails.
Russia has repeatedly sought to prevent Assange from being extradited to the United States for questioning and criminal charges, reportedly going so far as to hatch a plan to extract Assange from the embassy on Christmas Eve 2017.