By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lawyers for President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort told a U.S. judge on Tuesday they needed more time to evaluate prosecutors’ allegations that Manafort lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and breached his plea deal.
During a U.S. District Court hearing in Washington, Manafort’s lawyer Richard Westling said the defence team had learned more details earlier in the day about the allegations and was not sure yet if any of the issues were in dispute.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered the defence to file a response by Jan. 7 raising any concerns, and tentatively set a hearing for Jan. 25. Westling said he was not sure if a hearing would be necessary.
Mueller’s team in November accused Manafort of breaching a plea agreement reached two months earlier by lying repeatedly to investigators, and prosecutors on Friday for the first time provided details to back up their assertion.
They said Manafort among other things lied about interactions with a former business partner named Konstantin Kilimnik accused by prosecutors of having ties to Russian intelligence, and about contacts with Trump administration officials after being charged by Mueller.
Manafort, who earned millions of dollars for his political consulting work for Ukraine’s former pro-Russia government, has emerged as a key figure in Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election and whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Moscow’s operations.
The judge said the prosecution’s submission lacked “sufficient information” to help inform her decision on whether Manafort did lie and breach his deal. Westling said he agreed.
Asked by Jackson whether the defence team agrees with the basic facts in the Mueller team’s filing, Westling said he still could not say.
“We had a conversation with the government earlier today where they were more forthcoming … and I think we can continue to work through getting the detail we need to be able to answer that question,” Westling said.
Mueller’s investigation, which threatens Trump’s presidency, has led to guilty pleas by a series of former Trump aides and criminal charges against a variety of Russian individuals and entities. Trump has called the investigation a witch hunt and has denied colluding with Russia.
Prosecutors said in Friday’s filing Manafort falsely denied trying to contact administration officials either directly or indirectly, but they uncovered evidence showing he was in touch with one senior official through February 2018 and authorized another person to contact the administration on his behalf.
Many of the details of his alleged lies, particularly relating to Kilimnik, were heavily redacted from the filing.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham)