- The special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly probing a 2017 meeting between former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno.
- Mueller is said to be asking specifically about whether Manafort and Moreno discussed WikiLeaks or its founder, Julian Assange, during the meeting.
- Manafort was spearheading the Trump campaign when WikiLeaks began dumping batches of emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee that had been stolen by Russian hackers.
The special counsel Robert Mueller is inquiring about a 2017 meeting between Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign, and Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno, CNN reported.
Mueller is said to be asking, in particular, about whether Manafort and Moreno discussed the radical pro-transparency group WikiLeaks, or its founder Julian Assange, during the meeting.
Assange has been seeking refuge at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012. CNN’s report comes hours after The Guardian reported that Manafort visited the embassy at least three times since Assange began living there, including once in March 2016, around the time he joined the Trump campaign.
In a statement to INSIDER, Manafort forcefully denied the Guardian’s report.
“This story is totally false and deliberately libelous,” he said. “I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to Wikileaks, either directly or indirectly.”
The statement continued: “We are considering all legal options against the Guardian who proceeded with this story even after being notified by my representatives that it was false.”
Manafort was spearheading the Trump campaign when WikiLeaks published thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign at the height of the 2016 election. The US intelligence community believes the breaches and subsequent dissemination of emails were carried out on the Kremlin’s orders and that Russia used WikiLeaks as a propaganda tool.
WikiLeaks dumped the first batch of hacked Democratic emails on July 22, 2016. Days later, on August 2, Manafort met with the Russian military intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik and later said they discussed the Trump campaign and the DNC hack.
Kilimnik said they did not discuss the campaign but talked about “current events” and “unpaid bills,” believed to be a reference to Manafort’s financial debt to the Russian-Ukrainian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
Manafort pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy and obstruction and has been cooperating with Mueller since. But prosecutors said in a late Monday court filing that Manafort has lied to investigators in breach of his agreement, potentially jeopardizing his cooperation deal.
The agreement between the two sides had been rocky for at least the last few weeks. Earlier this month, ABC News reported that talks between Manafort and Mueller broke down because prosecutors felt the former Trump campaign chairman wasn’t being forthcoming about what he knew.
Among other things, Mueller is known to be asking Manafort what he knows about the Trump campaign’s ties to the transparency organisation.
Assange and WikiLeaks are at the center of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The DOJ has been investigating Assange since 2010 for his role in obtaining and disseminating sensitive information pertaining to US national security interests. It recently surfaced that the DOJ is preparing to indict Assange.
In a recently unsealed court filing in an unrelated case, assistant US attorney Kellen S. Dwyer asked a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia to keep the matter sealed.
Dwyer wrote that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged,” adding that the charges would “need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested.”
Dwyer was reportedly also working on the WikiLeaks case, and people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post that what Dwyer had revealed in the filing was true but unintentional.
The longtime GOP strategist Roger Stone and the far-right conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, both of whom are of interest to Mueller because of their connections to WikiLeaks, have also said in recent weeks that they expect to be indicted soon.
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