As part of Paul Manafort’s illicit lobbying for a former Ukrainian leader, he coordinated with a senior Israeli government official and spread stories of anti-Semitism against a Ukrainian politician, in order to pressure the Obama administration to turn against her, according to court documents filed Friday.
US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman pleaded guilty Friday to one count of conspiracy against the United States and another count of obstruction of justice to avert a second trial on money laundering and illegal lobbying charges.
Manafort also agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
At the hearing, prosecutors detailed Manafort’s political consulting and lobbying work on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the pro-Russian Party of Regions.
The document showed that in October 2012 Manafort hatched a scheme to tarnish the reputation of Yanukovych’s opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, by spreading the story that Tymoshenko’s supporters were encouraging anti-Semitism and allied with an anti-Semitic party.
By doing so he hoped to get Jewish supporters of president Barack Obama to “put pressure on the administration to disavow Tymoshenko and support Yanukovych,” the court documents said.
Manafort spread stories that “a senior cabinet official (who had been a prominent critic of Yanukovych’s treatment of Tymoshenko) was supporting anti-Semitism because the official supported Tymoshenko, who in turn had formed a political alliance with a Ukraine party that espoused anti-Semitic views,” the documents said.
“Manafort coordinated privately with a senior Israeli government official to issue a written statement publicizing this story,” the indictment said. “Manafort then, with secret advance knowledge of that Israeli statement, worked to disseminate this story in the United States.”
In a superseding indictment this morning, there are some interesting details about Manafort’s secretive lobbying work. Like his planting of stories to accuse an Obama official of being anti-Semitic. pic.twitter.com/yHDdSoyKZ0
— Shelby Holliday (@shelbyholliday) September 14, 2018
It quoted him as writing to an associate: “I have someone pushing it at the NY Post. Bada bing bada boom.”
Manafort sought to stir up “Obama jews” — an apparent reference to Jewish supporters of Obama — who would in turn “put pressure” on the Obama administration to disavow her, to Yanukovych’s advantage.
Prosecutors say he collaborated with an Israeli official to spread the story that Tymoshenko was allied with anti-Semitic causes to make the administration believe “the Jewish community will take this out on Obama on election day if he does nothing.” The US presidential elections were held the next month.
Manafort also allegedly disseminated stories according to which Tymoshenko had solicited murders.
The statement did not name the Israeli official, but there was speculation in Israel that it could have been Defense Minister Avigor Liberman, with media reports noting that he had issued a statement along such lines in October 2012 (Russian text).
However, Liberman vehemently denied any connection.
“The Defense Minister does not know Manafort, has never met him or ever spoken to him,” the Haaretz news site quoted a statement from his office as saying.
Yanukovych served as President of Ukraine from 2010 until his ouster in the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, amid unrest over his push to take the Eastern European country back into the Russian sphere of influence and away from the EU. Yanukovych, who is thought to be close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, now lives in exile in Russia. Within days of Yanukovych fleeing, Russia took military action that ultimately lead to the annexation of the Crimea Peninsula from Ukraine.
On Friday, prosecutor Andrew Weissman said in court that Manafort had struck a “cooperation agreement” and would plead guilty to charges related to his Ukrainian political consulting work.
“He wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life. He’s accepted responsibility. This is for conduct that dates back many years and everybody should remember that,” said attorney Kevin Downing.
It is unclear what information Manafort is prepared to provide to investigators about Trump or that could aid Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
But he could be a key witness for the government. He participated in a 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians where he expected to receive derogatory information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. A grand jury used by Mueller has heard testimony about the meeting.
He was also a close business associate of a man who US intelligence believes has ties to Russian intelligence.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the Manafort case was unrelated to President Donald Trump.
“This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated.”
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney, echoed that.
“Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign,” Giuliani said.
Under the terms of Friday’s plea deal, prosecutors dropped the bulk of the charges against Manafort, filing new paperwork that includes just two counts that resemble in many ways the original allegations made in an indictment last year.
The charges include conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
It’s unclear how the possible deal might affect Manafort’s pursuit of a pardon from Trump. The president has signaled that he’s sympathetic to Manafort’s cause. In comments to Politico before Friday’s plea deal, Giuliani said a plea without a cooperation agreement wouldn’t foreclose the possibility of a pardon.
Manafort had aggressively fought the charges against him and taken shots at his co-defendant, Rick Gates, who cut a deal with prosecutors earlier this year that included a cooperation agreement.
At the time of Gates’ plea, Manafort issued a statement saying he “had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence.” And during his Virginia trial in August, Manafort’s lawyers spent considerable time painting Gates as a liar, embezzler, philanderer and turncoat who would say anything to get a lighter prison sentence.
Pleading guilty allows Manafort to avoid a trial that was expected to last at least three weeks and posed the potential of adding years to the time he is already facing under federal sentencing guidelines from his conviction in Virginia.
A jury in that earlier trial found Manafort guilty of eight counts of tax evasion, failing to report foreign bank accounts and bank fraud. Jurors deadlocked on 10 other counts.
In the current Washington case, prosecutors detailed Manafort’s political consulting and lobbying work.
Prosecutors say that Manafort directed a large-scale lobbying operation in the US for Ukrainian interests without registering with the Justice Department as required by the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. Manafort was accused of concealing from the IRS tens of millions of dollars in proceeds from his Ukrainian patrons and conspiring to launder that money through offshore accounts in Cyprus and elsewhere.
Manafort had denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty. Even after his indictment last October, though, prosecutors say he continued to commit crimes by tampering with witnesses. The discovery of his witness contacts led to a superseding indictment in June and Manafort’s jailing ahead of his trial.
In addition to the witness tampering counts, Manafort had been formally charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent, conspiring to launder money and lying to the FBI and Justice Department about the nature of his work. Court papers indicated that he could have faced between 15 and 19 1/2 years in prison under federal guidelines.