A federal judge Monday declined to punish former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for helping write an opinion article for a newspaper in Ukraine defending his work there. But the judge warned she would likely consider any similar actions in the future as a violation of the existing gag order barring comments outside court as Manafort faces trial on criminal fraud charges.
"Mr. Manafort, that order applies to you, and not just your lawyer," U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said at an hour-long hearing in Washington. "I'm inclined to view such conduct in the future to be an effort to circumvent and evade . . . my order, as clarified this morning."
Jackson's rebuke came after prosecutors with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III last week accused Manafort of editing the piece for the English-language Kyiv Post with a former colleague that prosecutors said had ties to Russian intelligence.
Manafort's attorneys later acknowledged the editing, without addressing the government's allegations of the intelligence ties.
The court on Monday also unsealed an earlier filing by prosecutors disclosing a Nov. 30 email between Manafort and the colleague, Konstantin Kilimnik, based in Kiev, that prosecutors said set off the inquiry about the article. An FBI agent said the email exchange that named Kilimnik was obtained through a "court-ordered process," without elaboration.
"I have attached a framework for the oped in the Kyiv Post for Oleg. It keeps his approach but takes out pieces that would not be good to mention. You will notice that I left several areas where you need to insert points," Manafort wrote, referring to Oleg Voloshyn, a Ukrainian political commentator and former Foreign Ministry spokesman, who claimed authorship of the article to The Washington Post.
"Thanks for quick turnaround — got it. Will do my part on this one," Kilimnik emailed back, the court filings show.
Manafort, 68, and his longtime deputy, Rick Gates, 45, have pleaded not guilty to criminal charges filed Oct. 30, the first in Mueller's probe into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
Kilimnik has previously denied intelligence ties, telling The Washington Post in a statement in June that he has "no relation to the Russian or any other intelligence service." He ran Manafort's office in Kiev during the 10 years he did consulting work there.
Jackson acknowledged Manafort's argument that the Kiev article would not likely bias potential jurors in Washington, but discounted it "given the power of retweeting."
"I don't think it's consistent with the global and electronic nature of [communications] in today's world to say, 'Oh, it's in Kiev . . . not D.C.,'" Jackson said, when Manafort could shape an article overseas and "just have somebody you know post it on Facebook, Twitter or a blog."
Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing said his client is facing "a torrent of negative press coverage" every day, saying The Washington Post has a much wider circulation in the city where his case is pending than the Kyiv Post online.
"It's difficult to watch his reputation just continue to be destroyed by the press," Downing said. "There is this ongoing issue . . . It's not going away for Mr. Manafort."
Jackson said neither Manafort nor the government objected when she proposed the gag order, and that "there's a lot of negative press going on right now about the prosecution." Jackson said, "the point of the order was to have the merits of the case to be debated by everyone in the courtroom and not in the media."
Downing said Manafort's defense may move to throw out counts or evidence against him, saying charges of conspiracy, money laundering and making false lobbyist registration statements in connection with his work advising a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine amounts to "paperwork" violations of "just failing to file some forms."
Jackson also took under advisement a prosecutors' request to pull out of a proposed joint bail deal that would release Manafort from home detention and GPS monitoring as he awaits trial.
Manafort is under home confinement pending a deal on an unsecured promise to pay $10 million if he fails to appear in court. Gates is under similar confinement on a pledge to pay $5 million for failing to appear, and is working toward but has not yet reached terms with prosecutors.
Jackson reminded both men to give court monitors earlier notice when they intend to undertake approved travel for religious observances, medical reasons and legal meetings, saying "it has to be more than an hour in advance," but pressed them to finish talks on the bail terms "so we can get out of the business of monitoring soccer practices, which is where I'd like to be."