U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Friday scheduled a hearing for February 4, at which she will assess whether Paul Manafort lied to investigators after coming to a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller.
The hearing will take place behind closed doors, but a redacted transcript will be released after, the judge said.
“I want to have a full and fair hearing, and then I want to release as much of it as we can as soon as we can,” the judge said.
Jackson ordered the hearing at a public proceeding where she discussed with the parties the best way to to move forward in dealing with the dispute, in which Manafort’s attorneys have pushed back on Mueller’s claims that the former Trump campaign chairman intentionally lied.
The judge said she had “questions” about the allegations and that she had “ not made any decisions yet.”
She said that she must sort through a “fundamental dispute” that is “fundamental” to sentencing.
Jackson said that while Manafort’s plea agreement t with Mueller gives the prosecutors discretion to determine if he is in breach of the plea agreement, any factual findings she makes as to whether Manafort indeed lied would l affect the sentence she will eventually impose on Manafort, who pleaded guilty to witness tampering and to conspiracy against the U.S.
Manafort was present at Friday’s proceeding, having been ordered by the judge to attend, wearing a dark suit. Manafort also was using a cane. His lawyers have indicated he is suffering health problems in jail, where he has ben detained after being accused last summer of witness tampering.
Mueller’s November accusation that Manafort violated his plea agreement by lying to investigators was a major twist in the political operative’s legal saga. Manafort’s attorneys have pushed back on claims that he breached the cooperation deal in court filings that said any inconsistencies in Manafort’s statements to investigators were the result of Manafort’s complicated life that made it difficult for him to recall events that happened years ago. They’ve argued Mueller hasn’t shown evidence that he lied intentionally.
Mueller’s team said Friday that it did not intend to completely unravel the plea agreement, nor were prosecutors currently planning on bringing criminal charges on the basis of his lies. But the prosecutors could not commit that the special counsel or some other Justice Department division wouldn’t bring more charges against Manafort in the future.
Among the topics that Manafort is accused of misleading investigators about are his efforts to engage in witness tampering last year with Konstantin Kilimnik — his Russian business associate who Mueller has linked to a Russian intel agency — and other interactions he had with Kilimnik, including in 2016. Mueller has also alleged that Manafort lied about his contacts with the Trump administration, as well as about a payment made on his behalf in 2017 and in statements relating to a seperate, unspecified DOJ investigations.
On Friday, Manafort’s lawyers said that they believed the allegations that Manafort lied should be dealt with closer to sentencing, and after the probation office issued its presentencing report. Mueller’s team, represented by Andrew Weissmann at the hearing, said it would prefer to get the judge’s determination on the claims earlier in the process, so that prosecutors could take that determination into account in its sentencing submissions. He suggested that prosecutors wouldn’t seek that the judge give Manafort credit for his cooperation.
“In terms of timing, if the court wants arguments, we are prepared to proceed today,” Wiessmann said.
“I don’t know if I am,” Jackson quipped back.
Most of the court documents filed in the dispute have been heavily redacted. However, a formatting error by Manafort’s team revealed that some of the allegedly false statements had to do with Manafort’s efforts to pass along campaign polling data to Kilimnik — reportedly with the intention that the data be shared with certain Ukrainian oligarchs.The poorly redacted filing also revealed that Manafort was accused of lying about with Kilimnik on a so-called “peace plan” for Ukraine, discussions that apparently took place as late as spring 2018.
The judge discussed on Friday whether the arguments over the substance of Mueller’s claims would need to be done under seal. Weissmann indicated prosecutors’ preference that four out of the five topic areas be argued behind closed doors, but said that a transcript could be released later, once the parties agreed on the redactions. He also said that arguments over the details that were inadvertently revealed due the redaction errors would also need to be under seal.