November 28, 2018
President Donald Trump’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he had sought asylum—and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign, The Guardian reported on November 27.
Manafort’s March 2016 visit to Assange lasted about 40 minutes, a source told the news outlet. Just two months later, in June 2016, WikiLeaks emailed Russian intelligence (the GRU) via an intermediary—seeking DNC materials. After failed attempts, Vladimir Putin’s spies sent the Democrats’ documents in mid-July to WikiLeaks as an encrypted attachment.
What’s more, this was not Manafort’s first visit to Assange. The Guardian’s “well-placed” source said that Manafort previously had visited Assanage at the embassy in 2013 and 2015.
Indeed, The Guardian reported, Manafort’s acquaintance with Assange goes back at least five years, to late 2012 or 2013, when the American was working in Ukraine and advising its Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych.
However, it is the 2016 encounter that is especially likely to come under scrutiny by Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Just this week, Mueller said that Manafort had “repeatedly lied to the FBI” after he promised to cooperate with the probe in mid-September. The former campaign manager now has been referred by Mueller to the court for sentencing. Whether the secret tête-à-tête in London already has been investigated Mueller’s team is unknown.
His defense team says he believes what he has told Mueller to be truthful and has not violated his deal.
One key question is when the Trump campaign, itself, became aware of the Kremlin’s hacking operation—and what, if anything, it did to encourage it. President Trump repeatedly has denied collusion
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 U.S. State Department cables. It contributed to his decision to take refuge in the embassy.
According to the dossier written by the former MI6 Officer Christopher Steele, The Guardian reports, Manafort was at the center of a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and Russia’s leadership. The two sides had a mutual interest in defeating Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Steele wrote, whom Putin “hated and feared.”