Prosecutor Manafort meeting with Russian at heart of probe

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A prosecutor for special counsel Robert Mueller says the meeting between Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik goes to the "larger view of what we think is going on" and what "we think the motive here is".

Mueller is investigating whether there was collusion between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russian Federation, which USA intelligence agencies charge mounted an influence operation to sway the vote to Trump over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. A redacted version of the transcript was released Thursday.

A top prosecutor in the special counsel investigation into 2016 election interference has told a federal judge that a summer 2016 meeting in ny between then-candidate Donald Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and a man described as a former Russian intelligence officer strikes at "the heart of what the Special Counsel's Office is investigating", a newly released court filing shows.

But this court hearing represents one of the first times special counsel prosecutors have identified his interactions with Manafort as a central element of their case.

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"This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the Special Counsel's Office is investigating", prosecutor Andrew Weissman said, according to the transcript, about Manafort continuing to work with Kilimnik on Ukrainian issues.

A previous court filing revealed that in one of his meetings with Kilimnick, Manafort provided him with polling data, indicating the meeting was directly related to the election. It means the special counsel believes Manafort could increase his chances of a pardon by with a criminal lie.

Among other times, they said Manafort and Kilimnik had discussed the topic "in January 2017, in person, in Washington, D.C., when Kilimnik was here for the inauguration". Kilimnik, who was also indicted in the Manafort case but has been beyond the reach of USA law enforcement, has been described by prosecutors as someone with ties to Russian intelligence.

Legal analyst Luppe Luppen speculated on Twitter that, in a redacted portion of the transcript, prosecutors may have listed the possibility of a presidential pardon as an "unusual factor" in Manafort's plea agreement. Gates also spoke to investigators about Manafort sharing the polling data, according to the transcript.

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If a judge determines Manafort lied after his plea, it could affect the sentencing he would receive after his admission that he conspired to defraud the United States, violate lobbying laws and obstruct justice in connection with years of undisclosed work for a pro-Russian political party and Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych.

Jackson is set to sentence Manafort on March 13 for two conspiracy counts. Mueller has also gathered evidence about Russian oligarchs.

Kilimnik told the Washington Post that his meeting with Manafort on August 2 was "in no way related to politics or [the] presidential campaign in the U.S". Deripaska, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, emailed Kilimnik earlier in the year to offer "private briefings" about the Trump campaign, the Washington Post reported.

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