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Manafort might not fight claims he lied to Mueller

The Hill logo The Hill 12/11/2018 Lydia Wheeler

a man wearing a suit and tie: Manafort might not fight claims he lied to Mueller © The Hill Manafort might not fight claims he lied to Mueller Defense attorneys for Paul Manafort indicated Tuesday they might not contest special counsel Robert Mueller's allegations that President Trump's onetime campaign chairman lied to federal prosecutors.

Attorney Richard Westling said in court that it's less clear whether the defense needs to rebut Mueller's accusations.

Mueller filed a heavily redacted memo last week accusing Manafort of breaching his plea deal by lying about five subject areas: Manafort's contacts with Trump administration officials; his interactions with an associate who has suspected ties to Russian intelligence; the associate's role in tampering with witnesses; a $125,000 payment made to a firm working for Manafort; and information he provided related to another Justice Department investigation.

Friday's memo said Manafort stated after signing the plea agreement that he had no direct or indirect communications with anyone in the administration, but evidence has since demonstrated he authorized a person to speak on his behalf.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee on the federal district court in Washington, D.C., asked Westling on Tuesday if the defense agrees Manafort's responses to those topics were false.

Westling said he couldn't answer that yet, but that he's been talking with the government, which he said is being helpful in providing more information.

He said the government is trying to understand how Manafort's breach of the plea deal will impact his sentence.

Berman Jackson on Tuesday ordered Manafort's team to respond to Mueller's memo by Jan. 7 and state whether there are any areas of dispute. She said the government's memo didn't provide her with sufficient information to make a factual finding as to whether the allegations are true.

"It's a summary of your allegations," she told prosecutor Andrew Weissmann.

She said that while the government may be intending to provide evidence proving that what Manafort said was false, she doesn't want that evidence to be handed to her for the first time at a court hearing.

Weissmann said the government was trying to provide notice so that the defense has a better sense of what exactly Manafort said that was false.

"We weren't intending that to be the factual underpinning," he said, adding that the government has no objection to providing the court with that information ahead of a hearing.

Berman Jackson then ordered the government to file a supplemental pleading with facts and evidence to backup its claims by Jan. 14.

The parties agreed to schedule a tentative hearing on Jan. 25 at 9:30 a.m. in case they need to dispute any of the allegations.

Berman Jackson initially tried to schedule that hearing for Feb. 8, but the parties noted that is when Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Virginia, where he was convicted of eight counts of bank and tax fraud in August.

"Why would that matter?" Berman Jackson asked.

Westling said they don't know what issues could be raised by the probation department or the court there. He said they don't want to be in a position where there's some factual issue that may be pertinent.

The proceedings have been closely watched given their potential to shed light on Mueller's investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Future filings in the case are likely to be heavily redacted or possibly kept under seal, meaning the public will have to wait until the end of the investigation to get more details.

Last week, Berman Jackson scheduled March 5 as a tentative date to sentence Manafort to the two felonies he pleaded guilty to in the D.C. case as part of the plea agreement he signed to avoid a second criminal trial.

Updated at 4:58 p.m.

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