Manafort ghost-wrote an op-ed defending himself with the help of a Russian colleague

Special Counsel Robert Mueller says the draft was intended to "influence the public's opinion" in Manfort's favor.

Paul Manafort leaves Federal District Court in Washington, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Paul Manafort leaves Federal District Court in Washington, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Court documents filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Monday reveal former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was ghost-writing an editorial alongside a Russian colleague that was meant to sway public opinion in his favor. Manafort, who was indicted by Mueller’s team on conspiracy and money laundering charges on October 30, had worked on the editorial as recently as November 30.

The documents, filed in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., indicate that Manafort was effectively attempting to try his own case in the press, something for which U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson had already admonished him, after Manafort’s lawyers spoke to the media following his initial October 30 hearing.

“This is a criminal trial, not a public relations campaign,” Jackson said at the time. “I expect counsel to do their talking in this courtroom and in their pleadings and not on the courthouse steps.”

The op-ed mentioned in Mueller’s court filing on Monday shows the lengths to which Manafort went to paint himself in a more favorable light, against Jackson’s subsequent court order barring those involved in the case from speaking about it to the public.

“Even if the ghostwritten op-ed were entirely accurate, fair, and balanced, it would be a violation of this Court’s [previous order] if it had been published,” Mueller writes. “The editorial clearly was undertaken to influence the public’s opinion of Manafort, or else there would be no reason to seek its publication (much less for Manafort and his long-time associate to ghostwrite it in another’s name). It compounds the problem that the proposed piece is not a dispassionate recitation of the facts.”

Although the contents of the editorial are not expected to be made public, the filing indicates that it focused on Manafort’s political work in the Ukraine and specifies that the associate with whom Manafort was working “is currently based in Russia and assessed to have ties to a Russian intelligence service.”

Screengrab of Mueller's court filing
Screengrab of Mueller's court filing

The Russian associate’s name is not mentioned in the filing, but as Business Insider correspondent Natasha Bertrand noted on Monday evening, the individual is most likely Russian-Ukrainian political operative Konstantin Kilimnik, Manafort’s former colleague of 11 years, whom he had emailed in July 2016, offering “private [campaign] briefings” to Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. Manafort allegedly owed Deripaska $19 million for an investment the oligarch made in the Ukrainian TV company Black Sea Cable, a business venture which fell through. Deripaska claims Manafort never returned the money and maintains he had no part in Russia’s attempts to sway to 2016 U.S. election.

Screengrab of Mueller's court filing
Screengrab of Mueller's court filing

In Monday’s filing, Mueller’s team stated that Manafort’s work on the editorial constitutes a breach of trust and violates the Court’s order barring “the parties and counsel” involved in Manafort’s initial bail hearing from “making statements that could interfere with the fair trial to which the government and the defense are entitled.”

Screengrab of Mueller's court filing
Screengrab of Mueller's court filing

In November, Manafort had pledged $12 million in real estate and life insurance assets to avoid house arrest following his indictment. Because of his work on the editorial, Mueller on Monday requested that Manafort’s bail package be modified to include “a fully secured bond, the posting of assets not subject to forfeiture” — which include his Bridgehampton and Baxter Street properties — and “full-time GPS monitoring.”

The former campaign chairman was previously deemed a flight risk due to the fact that he had three U.S. passports, something that State Department officials told ThinkProgress was “highly unusual.” If the court accepts Mueller’s request for bail modification, Manafort will be required to “report to Pretrial Services where he will be located during the upcoming week, including details of any planned travel and where he will be staying.”