‘Whitewash’: What Was The ‘Other’ DOJ Probe Paul Manafort Was Lying About?

TPM Illustration. Photos by Getty Images/Tom Williams/ BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI

As former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort hurtles towards sentencing, key details about the nature of Manafort’s lies remain unknown.

But the transcript of a Feb. 13 hearing reveals a new link between Manafort and his potential value to a “DOJ investigation” that he was found to have lied about – one that appears to tie the probe directly to Manafort’s role in the Trump campaign.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s remarks at the hearing also appear to suggest that the probe involves prosecutors other than those on the special counsel team.

Court filings and Berman Jackson’s statements in court indicate that Manafort initially told special counsel prosecutors a story about the investigation that implicated an as-yet-unidentified person. That came during his negotiations with prosecutors over a plea agreement. But then after a plea deal was reached and Manafort had pleaded guilty, he offered what Berman Jackson called a “whitewashed” version of his original story, in a meeting where other investigators were present.

Berman Jackson’s remarks at the hearing place the investigation in the context of the Trump campaign, suggesting that Manafort’s value to the undisclosed DOJ probe emanates specifically from his role as campaign chairman.

“The point of seeking cooperation from a person at the highest level of the campaign was to obtain accurate information about the acts of others, in particular what transpired REDACTED,” Berman Jackson said at the hearing. “So it’s very troubling to me.”

Details about the nature of Manafort’s lie are scarce, but appear to involve an unknown person who “contacted him regarding” a redacted topic. The same day Manafort was supposedly contacted, Berman Jackson said, a meeting was held in part to resolve an unspecified “problem.”

That’s the fuller, more damning version that Manafort purportedly first told FBI agents, before he pleaded guilty.

After his plea, at another interview session with unspecified “representatives from REDACTED,” he then “totally whitewashed” his story, in the words of Berman Jackson.

It’s not clear which law enforcement bodies may have sent representatives to the Manafort debriefing sessions, though prosecutors from the Southern District of New York and the US Attorney for the District of Columbia are investigating spin-offs from the Mueller investigation. D.C. federal prosecutors are involved in the prosecution of GOP operative Roger Stone, who is accused of lying and obstructing justice during an investigation into his contacts with Wikileaks during the 2016 campaign.

“The evidence suggests that he decided to obscure what had taken place to shield possibly Mr. REDACTED,” Berman Jackson added.

At that meeting with other law enforcement representatives, Manafort’s version of events suddenly became far more “benign,” apparently drawing the ire of prosecutors but also stunning his own defense attorneys.

Berman Jackson said that Manafort’s “withholding of facts” had managed to “set off alarm bells with his own lawyers.”

I note that at no point has the defense told me in any pleading that the first version was mistaken,” she added. 

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