Washington, Feb 14 (IANS) US President Donald Trump’s former election campaign chairman Paul Manafort breached his plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller by “intentionally” lying to prosecutors in the Russia probe, a federal judge has ruled.
Manafort “made multiple false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, special counsel and the grand jury concerning matters that were material to the investigation”, including his contacts with his Russian associate during the 2016 presidential campaign and later, Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote on Wednesday.
Mueller is leading a probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.
The judge’s finding about Manafort, 69, can add years to his prison sentence and came after a set of sealed court hearings, CNN reported. He was convicted of various financial crimes in August relating to his work as a political consultant in Ukraine.
A month later, Manafort pleaded guilty on September 14 to conspiring to defraud the US, violate lobbying laws and obstruct justice – by witness tampering – in connection with years of undisclosed work in Ukraine for a pro-Russian political party and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
He then cut a deal to plead guilty to two charges of conspiracy and witness tampering in return for co-operating with Mueller’s investigation.
In all, Jackson on Wednesday determined Manafort intentionally lied about $125,000 he received for the legal bills, about another unnamed Justice Department criminal investigation and about his interactions with his longtime Russian associate Konstantin Kilimnik while he was campaign chairman and later.
Jackson said that two of the topics Manafort lied about, Kilimnik and payments he received for his legal bills were “material to the investigation”.
Manafort’s actions mean Mueller’s office “was no longer bound” by the plea agreement including prosecutors’ promise to support a possible sentencing reduction for Manafort accepting responsibility for his crimes, according to the Washington Post.
Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced in DC on March 13. His lawyers claim that he did not intentionally lie.
“Manafort did not lie,” they wrote in a redacted memo filed on Wednesday. “Despite the considerable efforts of the Office of Special Counsel … it cannot prove what did not happen.”
Manafort was seen as a potentially valuable witness for Mueller in his Russia investigation and potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow. He worked for nearly half a year on the campaign before resigning in August 2016 over revelations of his lobbying on behalf of the former Ukrainian President.
Manafort’s former business partner, Richard Gates, who also worked on the Trump campaign, had also pleaded guilty and been cooperating in the investigation.
Gates and Manafort were two of six Trump associates to be charged in connection with the investigation. The special counsel had also indicted more than two dozen Russians for using social media and hacking to meddle in the election.