Oh, Mr. Manafort – You’ve been a naughty monkey, haven’t you?
So on Monday, former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, saw special counsel Robert Mueller’s office charge him with lying to federal investigators after he’d signed a plea agreement, thereby violating that agreement’s terms.
On Tuesday, The Guardian posts a hot story, alleging that mere months before WikiLeaks, the secret-sharing website, posted hacked DNC emails, Manafort paid a visit to the Ecuadorean embassy’s most famous houseguest, Julian Assange.
OH – some “Russians” were noted on the visitor’s log, as well.
Manafort, according to sources, made quite a few trips to see Assange, who is currently fighting extradition, fearing the United States government seeks to bring charges against him.
Sweden has already dropped the sexual assault and rape charges against him, since either the statute of limitations has run out, or they just don’t see a way to get him back for trial.
Manafort made the trips to see Assange in 2013, 2015, and again 2016 – shortly before he volunteered his services to the Trump campaign, free of charge.
It was an unusual move, considering records show he was in dire straits, financially.
A well-placed source has told the Guardian that Manafort went to see Assange around March 2016. Months later WikiLeaks released a stash of Democratic emails stolen by Russian intelligence officers.
Manafort, 69, denies involvement in the hack and says the claim is “100% false”. His lawyers declined to answer the Guardian’s questions about the visits.
At this point, nobody expects him to step up and say he was involved.
Honestly, I don’t think anybody is claiming Paul Manafort had anything to do with the actual hacking of John Podesta’s emails. The actual deed was done by Russian intelligence (GRU) agents.
Assange and his outfit, WikiLeaks, have long been considered to be unnamed co-conspirators with the Russian government, which is why the leak of emails hacked by Russians is a key part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into what happened in the 2016 election.
According to two sources, Manafort returned to the embassy in 2015. He paid another visit in spring 2016, turning up alone, around the time Trump named him as his convention manager. The visit is tentatively dated to March.
Manafort’s 2016 visit to Assange lasted about 40 minutes, one source said, adding that the American was casually dressed when he exited the embassy, wearing sandy-coloured chinos, a cardigan and a light-coloured shirt.
Visitors normally register with embassy security guards and show their passports. Sources in Ecuador, however, say Manafort was not logged.
Embassy staff were aware only later of the potential significance of Manafort’s visit and his political role with Trump, it is understood.
Of course. They had no way of knowing just how explosive the situation was about to become, but it is to their credit that they did keep account of their guest’s visitors.
One key question is when the Trump campaign was aware of the Kremlin’s hacking operation – and what, if anything, it did to encourage it. Trump has repeatedly denied collusion.
Earlier this year Mueller indicted 12 GRU intelligence officers for carrying out the hack, which began in March 2016.
In June of that year WikiLeaks emailed the GRU via an intermediary seeking the DNC material. After failed attempts, Vladimir Putin’s spies sent the documents in mid-July to WikiLeaks as an encrypted attachment.
Trump and his advocates have repeatedly screamed that there was no collusion, ignoring that Mueller’s investigation is not limited to only collusion, but also obstruction, and any other whiff of wrongdoing that becomes known, along the way.
This, however – it seems kinda collusion-y.
One person familiar with WikiLeaks said Assange was motivated to damage the Democrats campaign because he believed a future Trump administration would be less likely to seek his extradition on possible charges of espionage. This fate had hung over Assange since 2010, when he released confidential US state department cables. It contributed to his decision to take refuge in the embassy.
One, out of many maddening things in this age of Trumpism is how Trump’s devotees are now making Julian Assange out to be some kind of folk hero.
That wasn’t the case when he was releasing information that was potentially harmful to our government, as well as troops overseas in 2010.
OH – he did something they saw as advantageous to Trump, even though the bulk of his work has been damaging to the nation.
In the now infamous Russia dossier, put together by former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, he suggested that Manafort was the pin that connected the Trump campaign and Russian leadership.
In a memo written soon after the DNC emails were published, Steele said: “The [hacking] operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Trump and senior members of his campaign team.”
We don’t know that. That’s what Robert Mueller’s team is diligently working to find out.
In fact, there are large parts of Steele’s dossier that remain uncorroborated. This, however, could very well be the start of vindication for Christopher Steele.
We’ll have to wait and see.