Paul Manafort's Lawyers Tried To Redact A Court Filing About Whether Manafort Lied To Investigators. It Didn't Work.
Manafort's lawyers filed a response to allegations by special counsel Robert Mueller's office that he lied after signing a plea deal. They tried to keep certain sections secret by redacting, but it was done incorrectly, making the information public.
WASHINGTON — Lawyers for Paul Manafort filed a response on Monday to allegations by special counsel Robert Mueller's office that he lied to investigators after signing his plea deal. Portions were supposed to be redacted and kept under seal. But due to what appears to be an error in how the document was filed, they're completely readable, including a section about allegations that he lied to investigators about sharing polling data with his former Russian Ukrainian business partner Konstantin Kilimnik.
Details about what Manafort was specifically accused of lying about were redacted in a submission from Mueller's office filed in court last month. The improperly redacted sections in Manafort's new submission, which was filed on Monday but not made public until Tuesday, shed light on that. Manafort's lawyers didn't fully deny that Manafort provided false information, but they argued that even if he did, it wasn't intentional.
In one section about prosecutors' claims that Manafort lied about his contacts with Trump administration officials, for instance, Manafort's lawyers attempted to redact a section that explained the substance of some of those allegations. By scrolling over the redacted text, and copying it and pasting it to another document — a function that isn't supposed to work when a court document is properly redacted — the full text shows up.
"The first alleged misstatement identified in the Special Counsel’s submission (regarding a text exchange on May 26, 2018) related to a text message from a third party asking permission to use Mr. Manafort’s name as an introduction in the event the third-party met the President," Manafort's lawyers wrote in the redacted portion. "This does not constitute outreach by Mr. Manafort to the President. The second example identified by the Special Counsel is hearsay purportedly offered by an undisclosed third party and the defense has not been provided with the statement (or any witness statements that form the basis for alleging intentional falsehoods)."
In another section addressing what Manafort told investigators about his contacts with Kilimnik — who is facing obstruction charges as Manafort's co-defendant — the text in a redacted portion reveals that prosecutors had accused Manafort of lying about sharing polling data related to the 2016 presidential campaign with Kilimnik.
Court papers in another case brought by Mueller's office — the prosecution of Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan — indicated that the FBI had determined that an unidentified person whose description, according to other media reports, matches Kilimnik still had ties to Russian intelligence in 2016. Kilimnik has denied having such ties.
Manafort attorney Richard Westling declined to comment when reached by phone by BuzzFeed News about what happened with the redactions.
Manafort's lawyers wrote that prosecutors had failed to acknowledge Manafort's "substantial and meaningful performance."
"During these interview sessions, Mr. Manafort provided complete and truthful information to the best of his ability. He attempted to live up to the requirements of his cooperation agreement and provided meaningful cooperation relating to several key areas under current government investigation," the lawyers wrote.
They said that being jailed had "taken a toll" on Manafort's physical and mental health, and those circumstances "weighed heavily on Mr. Manafort’s state of mind and on his memory as he was questioned at length." (Manafort has been in jail since June.) They pointed to the fact that Manafort had gout — at a court appearance last year in his case in Virginia, he appeared in a wheelchair with his foot bandaged — and said he had depression and anxiety.
Manafort's lawyers wrote that they weren't planning to challenge the government's finding that he'd breached his plea deal because the odds were stacked against him — the government just had to show that it reached that conclusion in "good faith," the lawyers wrote. They noted that prosecutors said the only consequence of the breach would be what sentence the government asked for. Under the plea deal, prosecutors had agreed to consider supporting a lower sentence, but that would be off the table.
If prosecutors later decided to bring additional charges or do anything else punitive, Manafort's lawyers said they reserved the right to fight the government's determination that the plea deal was violated.
Manafort pleaded guilty in September in federal district court in Washington, DC, to two counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice. A sentencing date is tentatively scheduled for March 5. Separately, a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, found him guilty over the summer of a string of financial crimes, and sentencing in that case is set for Feb. 8.
As part of his plea deal, he agreed to cooperate with the government — not just with the special counsel's office but any law enforcement agency that wanted his help.
The case was quiet until Nov. 26, when prosecutors alerted the judge that they believed Manafort had lied to investigators. The initial court filing didn't provide any details, but claimed Manafort had given false information about "a variety of subject matters." Manafort's lawyers responded at the time by saying Manafort "believes he has provided truthful information and does not agree with the government’s characterization or that he has breached the agreement."
The special counsel's office provided more specifics in a Dec. 7 filing, saying Manafort had lied about his contacts with Trump administration officials — Manafort said he hadn't had any direct or indirect communications, when in fact he had, prosecutors alleged.
Manafort's lawyers wrote that Manafort told investigators that although he knew many people serving in the administration, "he did not believe that he had any direct or indirect communications with any of them" while they served in the administration. The improperly redacted section revealed that prosecutors had cited his text message with a third party about using Manafort's name in a possible future meeting with Trump and the information that Manafort's lawyers called "hearsay."
Manafort's lawyers also said prosecutors gave them "additional examples that appear to reflect several additional (mostly indirect) contacts with individuals during periods they worked in the Administration." They didn't deny these contacts, but argued, "There is no support for the proposition that Mr. Manafort intentionally lied to the Government."
The government also claimed Manafort lied about his communications with Kilimnik; a $125,000 payment to an unidentified company Manafort was working with in 2017; and "another DOJ investigation" in another district — the government did not provide details about that investigation.
In the other improperly redacted section about Manafort's contacts with Kilimnik, Manafort's lawyers wrote that Manafort acknowledged additional meetings he'd had with Kilimnik that he didn't tell investigators about after the special counsel's office showed him evidence. According to the section that was supposed to be sealed, Manafort said he may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Kilimnik, and acknowledged meeting with Kilimnik when they were both in Madrid.
"It is not uncommon, however, for a witness to have only a vague recollection about events that occurred years prior and then to recall additional details about those events when his or her recollection is refreshed with relevant documents or additional information," Manafort's lawyers wrote.
Manafort's lawyers denied that Manafort had lied about Kilimnik's role in the obstruction scheme that both men were charged with, and that Manafort pleaded guilty to. They said Manafort had told the special counsel's office he couldn't speak to Kilimnik's state of mind, but didn't deny that the two conspired to try to influence potential witnesses in Manafort's criminal case.
Manafort's lawyers said the $125,000 payment was for a debt Manafort owed and that he'd asked for help paying, and that was a "subject of confusion" when Manafort discussed it with investigators. His lawyers argued that ultimately the evidence supported Manafort's explanation for how that payment was made and by whom. In a redacted portion of that section, Manafort's lawyers indicated the special counsel's office had talked to other people about the payment, and that their information differed from Manafort's.
As for the other DOJ investigation, Manafort's lawyers wrote that he corrected his earlier statements after his lawyer "refreshed his recollection" with notes.
In order to dissolve the plea agreement, a judge has to conclude that Manafort breached the terms — it's not enough for the government to just accuse him of doing so. It was always up to prosecutors to decide whether to seek a lower sentence for Manafort, but if the plea agreement is out, they no longer have any obligation to consider that for any cooperation he did provide. Prosecutors also would no longer be bound to dismiss other counts that Manafort was charged with.
Manafort is not asking for a hearing on the special counsel office's conclusion that he violated the agreement. However, his lawyers wrote that they were leaving open the possibility of asking for a hearing on what facts about his post-plea conduct the judge ultimately takes into consideration at sentencing.