On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort “intentionally” achieved a Triple Crown of false statements, lying about his contacts with a Russian agent to the Mueller investigation, the FBI, and a grand jury. In the ruling, Judge Amy Berman Jackson determined that any chance for Manafort to get cooperating benefits through his plea deal with the special counsel are officially kaput.
Judge Jackson, of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., decided that Manafort lied about a $125,000 payment allegedly routed through a pro-Trump PAC to cover his legal bills, and for lying about his contacts with Russian political consultant Konstantin Kilimnik. A longtime business associate of Manafort’s and a graduate of a military school that produces Russian intelligence agents, Kilimnik is believed to be “Person A” in Mueller’s indictment of the former Trump campaign manager — a person that the special counsel maintains has active “ties to a Russian intelligence service.”
In January, Manafort’s best legal minds accidentally revealed that their client had passed polling data to Kilimnik, when his lawyers improperly redacted their public response to Robert Mueller’s filings. (If you copy and pasted the redacted parts into a new doc, you could read the blacked-out words.) As New York’s Jonathan Chait tidily summed up the leak:
“Before he took a job managing Trump’s campaign, Manafort worked alongside a known Russian intelligence agent for years and years to elect candidates with pro-Russian policies. He continued to work with him while directing the Trump campaign.”
At which point, Manafort lied about it in three separate inquiries. According to a top special counsel deputy, Manafort made it seem in his testimony as if he met with Kilimnik on just one occasion, in August 2016; it was only when the special counsel showed Manafort evidence of his three meetings with the Russian after Trump’s election that Manafort came clear. Prosecutors also told Judge Jackson that Manafort “deceived them about transferring Trump campaign polling data to Mr. Kilimnik during the campaign,” according to the New York Times.
Unfortunately for Manafort, who’s already in his eighth month of incarceration, he will not be able to change his guilty plea filed in September 2018. And with Judge Jackson’s decision on Wednesday, it’s unlikely that Manafort will receive any leniency in his March 13 sentencing for his charges of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and witness tampering. (Jackson will also be the judge to deliver Manafort’s sentencing next month.) The decision on Wednesday could also impact Manafort’s sentencing in Virginia, where he was convicted on eight counts of financial crimes, including tax evasion and bank fraud. That sentencing has no date yet.
Paul Manafort is now the fourth Trump surrogate to be caught lying to investigators about campaign contacts with Russia, joining the red-handed crew of George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, and Michael Cohen. As the Mueller investigation marches toward its second anniversary, it appears that the middlemen are accounted for — the remaining question is if anyone named Trump will be indicted before campaign season heats up.