- Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign, issued a statement Tuesday denying a new report saying he met in secret with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in March 2016.
- “This story is totally false and deliberately libelous,” he said in a statement to INSIDER. “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 Guardian reported that Manafort met with Assange for about 40 minutes in March 2016.
- Four months later, WikiLeaks dumped the first batch of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.
- 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.
- The special counsel Robert Mueller has already been probing what Manafort knows about the campaign’s links to WikiLeaks and will be keenly interested in the timing of his reported meeting with Assange.
Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign, forcefully denied a new Guardian report that said he secretly met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange shortly after he joined the campaign.
“This story is totally false and deliberately libelous,” he said in a statement to INSIDER. “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.”
Sources told The Guardian Manafort had previously interacted with Assange in 2013 and 2015. His most recent visit reportedly came in March 2016, right around when he was brought onto the campaign to help shape delegate strategy going into the Republican National Convention that summer. The meeting reportedly lasted around 40 minutes and was not logged.
Assange is currently seeking asylum inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
In 2013, Manafort was reportedly listed in an internal document by Ecuador’s Senain intelligence agency as one of several well-known guests who visited the embassy while Assange was there. The document also mentions “Russians,” The Guardian reported.
When Manafort first visited Assange, he was working for the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who is known to be a pro-Russian strongman and has been living under the Kremlin’s protection since he was ousted from the presidency in 2014.
Assange and WikiLeaks are at the center of the special counsel Robert 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.
Kellen 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.
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.
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 was the chairman of the Trump campaign at the time, and legal experts say Mueller will be keenly interested in the timing of his meeting with Assange, which came just months before WikiLeaks’ first document dump. Indeed, Mueller has already been probing what Manafort knows about any links between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks.
He denies any involvement in the DNC hack.
Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction in September and has been cooperating with Mueller since.
But things between the special counsel and Manafort have reportedly been rocky for a while. Earlier this month, ABC News reported that talks between the two sides had broken down.
Since pleading guilty, Manafort had met with prosecutors nearly a dozen times, and though members of Mueller’s team have been asking him about a wide range of topics, they’re “not getting what they want,” a source with knowledge of the discussions told ABC News.
On Monday, Mueller’s office said in a new court filing that Manafort had breached his plea deal by lying to investigators.
Mueller’s office asserted that “the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies, including those after signing the plea agreement,” freed them of any obligation from the plea agreement.