NYT: Manafort court hearing last week reveals collusion/conspiracy case very much alive

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National Post / YouTube Why Paul Manafort is on trial...
National Post / YouTube

Breaking news last night from The New York Times:

In Closed Hearing, a Clue About ‘the Heart’ of Mueller’s Russia Inquiry

WASHINGTON — Of the few hints to emerge from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, about evidence of possible collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia, one of the most tantalizing surfaced almost in passing in a Washington courtroom last week.

Comments by one of Mr. Mueller’s lead prosecutors, disclosed in a transcript of a closed-door hearing, suggest that the special counsel continues to pursue at least one theory: that starting while Russia was taking steps to bolster Mr. Trump’s candidacy, people in his orbit were discussing deals to end a dispute over Russia’s incursions into Ukraine and possibly give Moscow relief from economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies.

The story details comments from Mueller team member Andrew Weissmann, described as “Mueller’s pit bull,” providing the court with possible motivations of key Trump insiders to strike a deal over Ukraine and end sanctions in return for lucrative financial rewards.

Pressed by the judge at Monday’s hearing to say why Mr. Manafort’s alleged lies mattered, Mr. Weissmann gave a broad hint about the thrust of the investigation.

“This goes to the larger view of what we think is going on, and what we think is the motive here,” Mr. Weissmann said. “This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating.”

Specifically, easing sanctions and conceding a Ukraine peace deal deeply favorable to Putin would benefit everyone from Trump (Trump Tower Moscow) and Manafort (Eastern Ukraine power broker) to Michael Flynn (Russian-aided nuclear plant construction).

The sanctions also limited business opportunities with Russia. Mr. Trump had long sought a marquee Trump Tower project in Moscow, and at least two aides were pursuing separate nuclear power projects that would have benefited from an end to the sanctions.

During the hearing, prosecutors suggested that Mr. Manafort was to be a spokesman in the United States, apparently for Mr. Kilimnik’s plan to divide Ukraine.

“If he were the spokesperson, and denominated as such within the United States,” Mr. Weissmann said, “he would also have access to senior people.” He then broke off, saying, “That’s as far as I can go.”

The story notes that while Sen. Richard Burr said today that the Senate Intelligence investigation has found no signs of collusion, the redacted transcript of last week’s court hearing suggests that the possibility of a provable conspiracy is very much alive in the special counsel’s investigation.

Great detail in the piece. Worth a read.

Expect angry tweets a few hours from now.

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