On Monday, Paul Manafort’s legal team filed its reply to Robert Mueller’s charges that Manafort had lied to the special counsel’s office and federal prosecutors while he was supposed to be cooperating. To protect some of the areas of disagreement, the team first filed its document under seal, and when it appeared in public filings today, the document was filled with redactions. Or at least, it was supposed to be. But as Daily Mail U.S. political editor David Martosko quickly pointed out, Manafort’s lawyers only blacked out the text. They failed to turn the submitted PDF into an image.
So anyone can select the “redacted” sections of the filing and see exactly what Manafort’s team had below the covers. For example, the first part of Section D may look like this in the PDF:
But it takes only a moment of cut-and-paste to produce this:
After being shown documents, Mr. Manafort “conceded” that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Mr. Kilimnik on more than one occasion); id. at 6 (After being told that Mr. Kilimnik had traveled to Madrid on the same day that Mr. Manafort was in Madrid, Mr. Manafort “acknowledged” that he and Mr. Kilimnik met while they were both in Madrid)).
Frankly, this is such a massive screw-up by Manafort’s legal team that it’s hard not to suspect that it’s an intentional effort to leak details of Robert Mueller’s case. That’s an idea that is bolstered because much of what’s redacted seems to be statements critical of the special counsel’s office, which are redacted for no obvious reason.
But in the process, Manafort’s team also released at least one snippet of real impact: Paul Manafort shared polling data from the 2016 campaign with Russia.
The biggest nugget from the redacted info comes in this section, which is also about Manafort’s meetings with Kilimnik:
During a proffer meeting held with the Special Counsel on September 11, 2018, Mr. Manafort explained to the Government attorneys and investigators that he would have given the Ukrainian peace plan more thought, had the issue not been raised during the period he was engaged with work related to the presidential campaign. Issues and communications related to Ukrainian political events simply were not at thefore front of Mr. Manafort’s mind during the period at issue and it is not surprising at all that Mr.Manafort was unable to recall specific details prior to having his recollection refreshed. The same is true with regard to the Government’s allegation that Mr. Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign.
What Manafort’s attorneys are claiming here is that, yes, Manafort did talk with Kilimnik about a plan for Ukraine, and he did share polling data with the Russians. But … he didn’t intentionally lie about it to the government. So it’s all good, at least as far as his plea deal is concerned.
Still: Manafort talked with his Russian contact about a plan for Ukraine and passed along to that contact polling information he had collected as a member of Trump’s campaign staff. He also traveled internationally to make that connection. Trump’s campaign was exchanging information with Russia and making arrangements on how they would deal with Ukraine. It seems very, very unlikely that he was the only one who knew about this exchange.
That’s collusion. Or conspiracy. Or plain old sedition. And that’s the real news out of this document.
But it may not be what Manafort’s lawyers intended to have taken away from these documents. In a later section, Manafort is discussing a payment made to an unstated firm. The only thing hiding behind the redaction there is this claim that his legal team hasn’t seen the evidence of his lies:
The Government has indicated that Mr. Manafort’s statements about this payment are inconsistent with those of others, but the defense has not received any witness statements to support this contention.
Why would this be redacted? This is followed by the last big un-redaction, which comes in a discussion about Manafort’s communications with members of Team Trump during the time he was supposedly cooperating. Far from containing anything of note, the redaction hides little but criticism of Mueller’s team.
There is no support for the proposition that Mr. Manafort intentionally lied to the Government. The first alleged misstatement identified in the Special Counsel’s submission(regarding a text exchange on May 26, 2018) related to a text message from a third-party asking permission to use Mr. Manafort’s name as an introduction in the event the third-party met the President. This does not constitute outreach by Mr. Manafort to the President. The second example identified by the Special Counsel is hearsay purportedly offered by an undisclosed third party and the defense has not been provided with the statement (or any witness statements that form the basis for alleging intentional falsehoods). Prior to and during his proffer meetings, Mr.Manafort was well aware that the Special Counsel’s attorneys and investigators had scrutinized all of his electronic communications. Indeed, it is important to note that Mr. Manafort voluntarily produced numerous electronic devices and passwords at the request of the Government.
The first redacted sections, the sections about Kilimnik, should be devastating for Manafort, for Trump, and for his campaign. Here’s a senior campaign member—the chairman of his campaign—travelling to clandestine meetings with a Russian representative to exchange information and plan for actions post-election. It’s hard to find anything that would look more like collusion because it is collusion.
But the other two large redactions both hide nothing but claims that the defense team hasn’t seen any information to support claims from the special counsel. There seems little reason to redact either of these sections, as they provide little or no information that would seem connected to ongoing investigations by the special counsel’s office.
The fact that what’s behind the redactions is a lot of claims that Manafort was cooperative, that the government hasn’t proven anything, and not much else makes it seem that this “accident” by Manafort’s team was not accidental at all. They may well have wanted those sections read so that their claims that Robert Mueller’s case against their client was weak would get out there.
And if, in the process, they outed the information that Team Trump was very definitely colluding with the Russians … well, both Mueller and the judge knew that already.