A bombshell report released by The Guardian this morning revealed that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in the spring of 2016.
This was the third time Manafort had visited the WikiLeaks founder; he'd previously gone to the embassy in the spring of 2013 and then again in 2015. According to the report, he went to the embassy alone, spoke to Assange for 40 minutes, and did not log in with security for his visit.
This meeting will be of vital interest to Robert Mueller, who is currently investigating contacts between WikiLeaks and Trump associates, particularly Donald Trump Jr. and Roger Stone. Its timing is suspect for two reasons: one, it took place right after Manafort had been named Chairman of the Trump campaign, and two, it coincided with the GRU's first efforts to hack the Clinton campaign, which Mueller previously laid out in his indictments of the 12 Russian spies last spring. All of this begs the questions of when the Trump campaign knew Russia wanted to help, and when they accepted their overtures.
Another Bad Day for Manafort
This is another setback for Manafort, who currently resides in jail in Alexandria, Virginia after being convicted on eight counts of fraud. As part of his plea deal last September, he agreed to help the Mueller investigation by answering their questions and turning over documents of interest. But in a brief filed yesterday, Mueller revealed that Manafort has been lying to investigators since agreeing to plead guilty.
"The plea agreement," Mueller writes, "provides that if the defendant fails to fulfill completely 'each and every one' of his obligations under this agreement, or 'engages in any criminal activity prior to sentencing,' the defendant will be in breach of the agreement." The brief does not outline specifically what Manafort lied about, but Mueller promises to turn in a "detailed sentencing submission" in advance of his scheduled February sentencing that will properly list his transgressions.
Because Manafort failed to fulfill to his end of the bargain, Mueller says, the government does not have to live up to theirs. By lying to the FBI and special counsel's office, he is in breach of their agreement and has relieved the government of its obligation to reduce his sentence in exchange for his cooperation.
Manafort's attorneys claim this complaint is invalid, but the brief indicates that Mueller has information on Manafort that Manafort himself does not know - possibly about the Assange meeting. Because Mueller plans on turning in the sentencing submission, it also means that he can disclose new evidence of collusion without having to go through acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.
All impacted by these revelations - Manafort, Assange, and Trump himself - have reacted with indignation. Manafort has called the Guardian article "100% false," and WikiLeaks tweeted that it would bet the paper "a million dollars and its editor's head" that the meeting never took place, adding that it would be "of the most infamous news disasters since Stern published the "Hitler Diaries." Trump has tweeted today about the unfairness of the Mueller investigation, labeling it a "phony witch hunt," but has said nothing about Manafort or Assange as of yet.
Whatever the outcome, it is now reasonable to assume that Mueller is building a strong case for collusion on the part of the Trump campaign. Whether or not there is a smoking gun tying everything to Trump himself remains to be seen.