- Paul Manafort and WikiLeaks are threatening legal action against The Guardian over its report on Tuesday that the former Trump campaign chairman met secretly in March 2016 with Julian Assange.
- The report, if true, would be a significant development in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, which is looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.
- In a rare statement issued from federal prison, Manafort called the report “totally false.” WikiLeaks says it is “100% fake,” and is offering to wager The Guardian $1 million that the story is false.
WikiLeaks and Paul Manafort are disputing a bombshell report that the former Trump campaign chairman met several times with Julian Assange, including once in March 2016.
“This story is totally false and deliberately libelous,” Manafort said in a statement Tuesday issued through his spokesman in response to the report, published by The Guardian.
Manafort and Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, met in secret in 2013, 2015 and 2016, just before Manafort joined the Trump campaign, according to the report.
“I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to Wikileaks, either directly or indirectly. I have never reached out to Assange or Wikileaks on any matter,” he said. “We are considering all legal options against the Guardian who proceeded with this story even after being notified by my representatives that it was false.”
If true, The Guardian’s story would have major repercussions for the special counsel’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government. Special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating whether anyone on President Donald Trump’s team had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to release emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee or Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
But like Manafort, WikiLeaks is vehemently denying the report, which the group calls “100% fake.”
“Remember this day when the Guardian permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper’s reputation,” tweeted WikiLeaks, seemingly referring to Guardian reporter Luke Harding.
“WikiLeaks is willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor’s head that Manafort never met Assange,” the tweet said.
Remember this day when the Guardian permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper’s reputation. @WikiLeaks is willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor’s head that Manafort never met Assange. https://t.co/R2Qn6rLQjn
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) November 27, 2018
WikiLeaks also predicted that the story would turn out to be “one of the most infamous news disasters” since Stern, a West German magazine, publishing hoax documents purported to be the diaries of German dictator Adolf Hitler.
Manafort is currently in jail following his Aug. 21 conviction for bank fraud and tax evasion by the special counsel’s office for consulting work he did for the Ukrainian government through 2014. Manafort entered a plea agreement with Mueller’s team on Sept. 14, just before he was set to go to trial on other charges related to his Ukraine work. (RELATED: Mueller Claims Manafort Violated Plea Deal By Lying To Investigators)
That plea agreement was thrown out Monday after Mueller’s team accused Manafort of lying to the FBI and prosecutors even after he had entered the plea deal. Manafort’s lawyers disputed the allegation, and it is unclear what he is accused of lying about.
The Tuesday Guardian article does not provide documentary evidence showing that Manafort visited Assange. Manafort is also not listed on visitor logs for the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, as is customary for visitors to the facility.
The Guardian cites “a well-placed source” with knowledge about the most recent visit.
Manafort’s first alleged visit is documented in an internal report written by Ecuador’s Senain intelligence agency.
“Paul Manaford [sic]” is listed as one of the guests along with “Russians.”
The Guardian’s sources said that Manafort visited the embassy again in 2015 and later in March 2016. He visited Assange alone on his last visit, which allegedly lasted 40 minutes.
A meeting with Assange would raise the possibility that Manafort discussed the release of Democrats’ emails. It would also bolster parts of the infamous anti-Trump dossier written by former British spy Christopher Steele.
Steele, a former MI6 officer who has provided interviews to Guardian author Harding, claimed in his dossier that Manafort directed a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” to release hacked emails.
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