WASHINGTON (AP) — A British newspaper alleges that Paul Manafort secretly met WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London within days or weeks of being brought aboard Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
If confirmed, the report Tuesday suggests a direct connection between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which released tens of thousands of emails stolen by Russian spies during the 2016 election.
The campaign seized on the emails to undermine Trump's rival, Hillary Clinton.
The Guardian, which did not identify the sources for its reporting, said that Manafort met with Assange "around March 2016" — the same month that Russian hackers began their all-out effort to steal emails from the Clinton campaign.
Manafort's lawyers did not immediately return messages from The Associated Press.
"I have never reached out to Assange or Wikileaks on any matter. 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.” (2/2)— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 27, 2018
Assange's Ecuadorian lawyer, Carlos Poveda, said the Guardian report was false.
And WikiLeaks said on Twitter that it was "willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor's head that Manafort never met Assange."
WikiLeaks launches legal fund to sue the Guardian for publishing entirely fabricated story "Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy" -- which spread all over the world today. It is time the Guardian paid a price for fabricating news. https://t.co/VaoMESN5RO— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 27, 2018
The Guardian cited two unidentified sources as saying Manafort first met Assange at the embassy in 2013, a year after Assange took refuge there to avoid being extradited to Sweden over sex crime allegations. The Guardian said Manafort returned there in 2015 and 2016 and said its sources had "tentatively dated" the final visit to March. The newspaper added that Manafort's visit was not entered into the embassy's log book and cited a source as saying Manafort left after 40 minutes.
There was no detail on what might have been discussed.
The Trump campaign announced Manafort's hire on March 29, 2016, and he served as the convention manager tasked with lining up delegates for the Republican National Convention. He was promoted to campaign chairman in May 2016.
An AP investigation into Russian hacking shows that government-aligned cyberspies began an aggressive effort to penetrate the Clinton campaign's email accounts on March 10, 2016.
AP Writer Franklin Briceno contributed from Lima, Peru.
BY CHAD DAY, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller is accusing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of lying to federal investigators in the Russia probe in breach of his plea agreement, an extraordinary allegation that could expose Manafort to a lengthier prison sentence — and potentially more criminal charges.
The torpedoing of Manafort's plea deal, disclosed in a court filing Monday, also results in Mueller's team losing a witness from the top of Donald Trump's presidential campaign who was present for several key episodes under investigation. That includes a Trump Tower meeting involving Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer he was told had derogatory information on Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In the new filing, Mueller's team said that after Manafort agreed to truthfully cooperate with the investigation, he "committed federal crimes" by lying about "a variety of subject matters." Prosecutors said they will detail the "nature of the defendant's crimes and lies" in writing at a later date to the judge.
Through his attorneys, Manafort denied lying, saying he "believes he provided truthful information" during a series of sessions with Mueller's investigators. He also disagreed that he breached his plea agreement. Still, both sides now agree they can't resolve the conflict, and U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson should set a date to sentence him.
Manafort, who remains jailed, had been meeting with the special counsel's office since he pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He cut that deal to head off a second trial after being convicted last summer of eight felony counts related to millions of dollars he hid from the IRS in offshore accounts.
Both cases stemmed from his Ukrainian political work and undisclosed lobbying work he admitted to carrying out in the U.S. in violation of federal law.
As part of his plea agreement, Manafort pledged to "cooperate fully, truthfully, completely, and forthrightly" with the government "in any and all matters" prosecutors deemed necessary. He also forfeited many of his rights as well as his ability to withdraw the plea deal if he broke any of the terms. In return, prosecutors agreed to not bring additional charges against him and to ask a judge for a reduction of his sentence if he provided "substantial assistance."
But with prosecutors saying he breached the agreement, Manafort now faces serious repercussions such as the possibility of prosecution on additional charges, including those prosecutors dropped when he made the deal.
Manafort already faces up to five years in prison on the two charges in his plea agreement. In his separate Virginia case, Manafort's potential sentencing under federal guidelines has not yet been calculated, but prosecutors have previously said he could face as much as 10 years in prison on those charges.