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Thu 12 December 2019
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“No collusion?” Not so fast. The special counsel’s office is still unraveling mysteries at “the heart” of the Russia investigation

A newly released transcript from a closed-door hearing last week in a Washington, D.C., courtroom reveals a detail that The New York Times described as “one of the most tantalizing” clues that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is still actively investigating evidence of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The transcript comes from a Feb. 4 hearing focused on the charge that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort breached his cooperation deal by lying to federal prosecutors about his communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime business associate with alleged ties to Russian intelligence.

The revelation that the special counsel’s office is still unraveling mysteries at “the heart” of the Russia investigation seems to contradict the recent suggestion by acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker that the inquiry is “close to being completed.

The theory that Trump campaign officials were engaged in talks to hand over territory in Ukraine to Russia and potentially lift Russian sanctions while the Kremlin was propping up Trump’s campaign “was offered almost as an aside by the prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann,” the Times reported.

The seemingly offhand comment suggests that Mueller’s team “is still pursuing the central question of whether there was some kind of deal between Russia and the Trump campaign” during the 2016 presidential election, the Times noted.

Weissman dropped the clue in response to a question from U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who asked why it was particularly significant that Manafort allegedly lied about his discussions regarding the so-called “peace plan” for Ukraine proposed by Kilimnik.

Those talks allegedly started in early August 2016 — when Manafort was still in charge of Trump’s campaign — and continued through 2017, despite the “enormous amount of attention” being paid to the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, Weissmann noted, according to the Times.

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

Prosecutors specifically cited an August 2 2016, meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik as the first in a series of discussions related to a deal in Ukraine. Also present at the meeting was Manafort’s longtime associate and former deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates, who agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team in February 2018 as part of a plea deal.

While Manafort claims he immediately dismissed Kilimnik’s proposal for a pro-Russia deal in Ukraine, Mueller’s team contends that they discussed the proposal on at least three additional occasions.

“This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating.”

Judge Berman appeared to agree with the prosecutor’s argument that it was of special significance that Manafort allegedly lied about his contacts with Kilimnik.

“I am, actually, particularly concerned about this particular alleged false statement,” she said, according to the Times.


The revelation that the special counsel’s office is still unraveling mysteries at “the heart” of the Russia investigation seems to contradict the recent suggestion by acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker that the inquiry is “close to being completed.

In fact, Mueller’s team appears to be actively pursuing matters at the core of its mission — and based on the transcript, it’s clear that collusion is still very much on the table.

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