Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller’s office revealed Monday that Manafort worked on an op-ed with a person with ties to the Russian intelligence service as recently as November 30 and pulled out of a proposed $11 million bail deal.
Manafort’s lawyers admitted in court filings Thursday he edited a draft op-ed intended for publication in the Kyiv Post, but said it shouldn’t be held against him.
The op-ed’s author was Oleg Voloshyn, a former Ukrainian government official. He worked on it “to ensure its accuracy.” It was never intended to publish in the US, Manafort’s lawyers said.
Prosecutors said Manafort worked on the op-ed for Voloshyn with a third person, a co-ghostwriter who had ties to Russian intelligence. Manafort’s lawyers made no mention of that person in their filing.
Manafort’s lawyers argued that the special counsel’s filing tried to smear the former campaign official and restrict his constitutional right to free speech. Prosecutors claimed his work on the op-ed could violate a court-ordered gag order.
According to Manafort’s lawyers, the special counsel’s office pushed the idea that Manafort “engaged in wrongdoing when all he has tried to do is to correct the public record in Ukraine concerning his consulting activities in Ukraine.” Manafort’s criminal charges relate to his lobbying work for the government of Ukraine.
“In the special counsel’s view, Mr. Manafort is apparently never allowed to set the factual record straight,” his lawyers said. “Nor is he allowed to openly maintain his innocence. He must simply remain silent while his reputation is battered, and potential jurors in this district might be tainted.”
Manafort has been confined to his home, wearing a GPS monitor since October 30, and currently would owe $10 million to the court if he fled, though that amount is unsecured by assets and property. The special counsel’s office deems Manafort and his co-defendant, Rick Gates, to be flight risks.
Both defendants have attempted for more than a month to prove their real estate assets and secure financial backers for their bail so they can move more freely in the states where they live. They have pleaded not guilty to the 12 total criminal charges they face.
The Kyiv Post published the op-ed
on Thursday, along with an editor’s note.
It’s largely about Manafort himself and credits him for helping former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych strengthen the country’s ties to Europe. “Paul has absolutely nothing to do with it,” the op-ed’s author told the Kyiv Post. Yanukovych is now living in exile in Russia.
The editor’s note said that a deputy chief editor at the English-language newspaper received the op-ed submission on Monday. The note outlines how Voloshyn said he wrote it himself, and sent it to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian business associate of Manafort’s, for editing. Irina Milinevskaya, a former Ukrainian national TV executive now working for Russian-sympathetic interests, submitted the draft op-ed to the newspaper.
“I can’t but stipulate that Yanukovych was a bad president and crook who by the end of his rule had effectively lost credibility even of his staunchest supporters,” Voloshyn wrote in the op-ed.
“But with all that said one shouldn’t ignore the fact that Ukraine under Yanukovych made a number of major steps towards the EU and the West in general. And that Manafort was among those who made those paradoxical accomplishments real.”
Gates allowed to leave house
In separate court documents filed Thursday, Gates’ lawyers gained two exceptions to his house arrest this weekend.
Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson allowed Gates to leave his home to volunteer at a school-sponsored event and coach a children’s sports team in Richmond.
Though a deal to change his house arrest isn’t final, Gates’ attorneys say they’ve proposed to secure more than $5 million bail for Gates, and Mueller’s office has interviewed two potential financial backers and received details on his real estate assets. Gates is currently under house arrest and GPS monitoring and is out on a $5 million unsecured bond.
Manafort and Gates are set to appear in court again on Monday.
New judge in Flynn case
Another one of the defendants in the Russia probe saw a change to his case Thursday.
The court case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn was randomly reassigned from Judge Rudolph Contreras, who accepted Flynn’s guilty plea last week, to Judge Emmet Sullivan in federal district court in Washington.
Contreras was set to oversee Flynn’s sentencing next year.
Contreras is a President Barack Obama appointee. Sullivan is a President Ronald Reagan appointee, who was later elevated by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Judge reassignments happen fairly often, sometimes because of conflicts of interest. There was no explanation given by the court on why Flynn’s case was reassigned. Flynn’s attorney declined to comment.