A lawyer for President Trump's former campaign chairman said Paul Manafort did not violate a gag order after being involved in an op-ed published in a newspaper in Ukraine. Others see it as evidence of collusion.
US Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office said on Thursday that Manafort's work behind the scenes on an op-ed piece in the Kyiv Post on November 30 contravened a November 8 gag order.
The order instructed all parties in the ongoing investigation into possible Russian meddling during the 2016 US presidential election to refrain from making statements to the media that could prejudice the case.
The piece was authored by Oleg Voloshyn, a former spokesman for Ukraine's Foreign Affairs Ministry, and praised Manafort's work in helping Ukraine secure better relations with the EU.
"I can only wonder why some American media dare falsely claim that Paul Manafort lobbied Russian interests in Ukraine," the piece said. "Without his input Ukraine would not have had the command focus on reforms that were required to be a nation candidate to the EU."
Manafort, however, worked mainly for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after a popular revolt in Kyiv in 2014.
Brian Bonner, the chief editor at the Kyiv Post, told the news agency Reuters that the article had been submitted on Monday and that he had not immediately published it because he was suspicious of its contents and wanted to confirm that Voloshyn had written it.
"It was blatantly pro-Manafort with an opinion about his activities that most people don't share and that his record in Ukraine doesn't support," Bonner wrote in an email.
A question of geography
Manafort's lawyer Kevin Downing said in a court filing on Thursday that his client had been involved only in editing the piece to ensure accuracy and that it would not prejudice the case because it was published in a Ukrainian newspaper, not an American one.
"The defense did not, and does not, understand that the court meant to impose a gag order precluding Mr. Manafort from addressing matters, which do not 'pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case,'" Downing wrote, adding that Manafort would not give up his First Amendment rights to freely express his views just because he was facing federal charges.
A federal grand jury indicted Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates in October as part of Mueller's investigation into accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
The charges against Manafort include conspiracy to launder money and failing to register as a foreign agent working on behalf of Yanukovych's government. Yanukovych was ousted in 2014.
The court filing came after prosecutors working for Mueller said this week they could not agree to more lenient bail terms for Manafort after discovering he was working with a colleague tied to Russian intelligence agencies on an opinion piece that cast his work in a favorable light.
Prosecutors said in a filing they had reached out to Manafort's lawyers when they discovered the draft and had been assured that it would not be published.
It is not clear when US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson will rule on the matter, but Manafort and Gates are due to appear before her on Monday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia for a status hearing.
jbh/sms (Reuters, AP)