- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2017

Special counsel Robert Mueller is keeping a close eye on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

So close in fact, that the FBI tracked line-by-line edits Mr. Manafort made to a draft editorial defending his work in Ukraine before it was published in the English-language Kiev Post.

Prosecutors from Robert Mueller’s special counsel team flagged the op-ed as a concern last week while negotiating a bail package for the former Trump campaign chairman, arguing that Mr. Manafort’s conduct constitutes a violation of a court-imposed gag order and raises doubts about whether he will adhere to the bail conditions.

They revealed new details about the breadth of the case and their surveillance of Mr. Manafort in court documents filed Friday, saying Mr. Manafort’s attorneys had assured them the op-ed would not be published and that they were falsely informed that Mr. Manafort did not write the editorial. A declaration written by FBI Special Agent Brock W. Domin does not explicitly say how investigators monitored Mr. Manafort and learned of the planned editorial, but the filing included images detailing every individual edit a computer user named “paul manafort” made to the original draft document using the Microsoft Word program.

“Manafort’s conduct undermines trust in his adherence to bail conditions. Bail is fundamentally about trust — whether a defendant can be trusted to appear and to abide by the conditions put in place to assure his appearance,” special counsel prosecutors wrote in the court brief. “Even taken in the light most favorable to Manafort, this conduct shows little respect for this Court and a penchant for skirting (if not breaking) rules.”

An attorney for Mr. Manafort has pushed back against the special counsel’s accusation that his client violated a federal judge’s gag order by helping draft the editorial. He argued that prosecutors’ restrictive interpretation of the order would seek to prevent him from even publicly maintaining his innocence.

In court filings, defense attorney Kevin Downing wrote that the special counsel’s interpretation of the gag order went too far and would “unconstitutionally vitiate Mr. Manafort’s rights to defend himself and his reputation, and to correct the public record.”

“The Special Counsel’s standard would lead to the constitutionally untenable conclusion that a defendant is not even allowed to maintain his or her innocence when such an order is entered because, by doing so, that statement might influence the public’s opinion,” Mr. Downing wrote in a six-page brief filed in court late Thursday. “In the Special Counsel’s view, Mr. Manafort is apparently never allowed to set the factual record straight. … He must simply remain silent while his reputation is battered, and potential jurors in this District might be tainted.”

Judge Amy Berman Jackson previously ordered all parties involved in the case “to refrain from making statements to the media or in public settings that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case.”

Prosecutors were concerned that Mr. Manafort, who was charged with multiple criminal counts including conspiracy to commit money laundering and failure to file proper financial disclosures, was working to ghostwrite an editorial that “clearly was undertaken to influence the public’s opinion.”

Since Mr. Manafort’s Oct. 30 indictment, he has been held on house arrest and subject to GPS monitoring. He was in the process of arranging a multimillion-dollar bail package to secure his release when the special counsel balked at the proposed arrangement after learning of his work on the op-ed. The editorial was published Thursday in the Kiev Post.

Prosecutors on Friday encouraged Judge Jackson to deny a pending motion that would loosen Mr. Manafort’s conditions of release and give him more freedom.

The filing came on the same day that special counsel prosecutors disclosed they had collected more than 400,000 documents — including financial records, emails and corporate records — as part of their investigation into Mr. Manafort and his top associate Richard Gates, who was indicted on similar charges. Prosecutors obtained 15 search warrants to seize evidence for the case and have collected information from 36 laptops, phones, thumb drives and other electronic devices, according to the court filings.

The document also discloses that the two defendants have given deposition testimony in another matter.

Mr. Downing admitted his client had helped fact-check the Kiev Post editorial but said it was done in an effort to “correct the public record in Ukraine concerning his consulting activities in Ukraine” not meant to influence an audience in the United States.

The op-ed was written by Oleg Voloshin, a former spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. An editor’s note attached to the op-ed states that Mr. Voloshin told the Kiev Post that he wrote the op-ed himself, and before its publication shared it with Mr. Manafort and his longtime associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who worked for him in Ukraine, for fact-checking.

“It is totally mine,” Mr. Voloshin said in the editor’s note. “Paul has absolutely nothing to do with it.”

The editorial credits Mr. Manafort’s work with then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for strengthening the country’s relationship with the European Union.

“One shouldn’t ignore the fact that Ukraine under Yanukovych made a number of major steps towards the EU and the West in general,” Mr. Voloshin wrote. “And that Manafort was among those who made those paradoxical accomplishments real.”

Mr. Downing said nothing in the editorial would violate the court’s order and that the court should approve the previously drafted bail package.

Under the proposed agreement, which was initially reached in conjunction with Mr. Mueller’s legal team, Mr. Manafort would have no longer been subject to house arrest or GPS monitoring. He could travel to Florida, New York, Virginia and the District of Columbia but would need prior court approval to travel elsewhere in the United States.

In exchange for more freedom, Mr. Manafort would agree to put up four properties worth a collective $11.65 million as bail. The properties include his Alexandria home, worth $2.7 million; a $4 million residence in Bridgehampton, New York; a $1.25 million home in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; and a Manhattan condo worth $3.7 million.

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