A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Paul Manafort broke his plea deal by intentionally and repeatedly lying to the FBI, the special counsel’s office, and the grand jury about matters material to the special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections, as well as possible collusion by the Trump campaign.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson determined Manafort had lied about his communication with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian aide to Manafort who the FBI says has ties to Russian intelligence, and who has also been indicted by the special counsel’s office. Manafort also lied about a $125,000 payment he received to cover his legal bills, as well as another unnamed Department of Justice investigation, the scope of which hasn’t been publicly described.
Manafort was President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, and prosecutors say he passed internal polling data to Kilimnik during the campaign. Prosecutors further claim that the two men also discussed a resolution to the conflict in Ukraine while President Trump was still a candidate.
Manafort’s plea deal made him a star witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump’s campaign possible role in those efforts. He was a cooperating witness for almost a year, but the lenient sentencing he might have obtained through a plea deal with the special counsel’s office will likely be lost to Manafort with the judge’s finding that he lied.
Manafort’s lawyers claim their client did not lie intentionally. Rather, his false statements were the result of confusion or forgetfulness, they claim.
Last week, a prosecutor representing the special counsel’s office expressed concerns to Judge Jackson that Manafort had ceased his cooperation under the plea deal because was angling for a presidential pardon. “The normal motives and incentives that are built into a cooperation agreement” weren’t working, he told the court, because Manafort had discovered an incentive to lie in order to protect the president In previous court hearings, prosecutors claimed Manafort had lied to downplay his contacts with the administration. (The special counsel’s office did not implicate the president.)
In September, Manafort pleaded guilty to lobbying violations, obstruction of justice in the form of witness tampering, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Those charges were related to his years of secret work for Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych and for pro-Russian political actors in the country. In a separate federal case, he pleaded guilty in August to eight financial crimes, including tax fraud. He could face decades in jail.
Because Manafort lied after agreeing to cooperate, Mueller’s office is now freed from its end of the bargain: While Manafort cannot retract his guilty pleas, the special counsel is no longer obligated to pursue a more lenient sentence for Manafort in exchange for his cooperation. The plea agreement had also delayed Manafort’s sentencing for his guilty pleas (witness tampering and conspiracy) and his conviction of eight financial crimes. Manafort is due to be sentenced March 13.