Manafort Denies He Ghostwrote Op-Ed in Violation of Gag Order

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  • Absolute gag on speech would violate rights, Manafort says
  • Dispute shows how close Manafort remains to Ukrainian allies
Sunstein on What to Watch in Manafort Indictments

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort denied he ghostwrote an editorial with a longtime colleague tied to a Russian intelligence agency, as claimed by prosecutors.

Prosecutors for Special Counsel Robert Mueller said earlier this week that as recently as Nov. 30, Manafort had been working on a draft editorial touting his work in Ukraine, which they said violated a judge’s order not to try his case in the media. They said Manafort, who is accused of working as an unregistered agent of Ukraine, secretly wrote the piece to put a positive spin on his political consulting work there. Prosecutors said Manafort’s bail terms should be toughened because he breached a trust.

In a court filing, Manafort’s attorneys countered that Oleg Voloshyn, a former spokesman for Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs under ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, wrote the op-ed piece. The English-language Kyiv Post published a piece Thursday under Voloshyn’s byline.

Mueller’s interpretation would unconstitutionally violate Manafort’s “rights to defend himself and his reputation, and to correct the public record,” his attorneys wrote in a filing in federal court in Washington. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1991 “establishes that a defendant (and his counsel) do not lose all of their First Amendment rights in a criminal prosecution.”

The dispute reveals how close Manafort remains to former colleagues in Ukraine, where he worked for a decade reaping millions of dollars in payments that are now at the heart of an indictment that accuses him of laundering more than $18 million. He and Rick Gates, an associate charged with him in late October, have pleaded not guilty.

Correcting Record

Manafort’s attorneys said the judge’s order, imposed on Nov. 8, doesn’t bar him from addressing a Ukrainian audience about the work he did there. “All he has tried to do is to correct the public record in Ukraine concerning his consulting activities in Ukraine,” they wrote. 

They urged U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to approve an $11.7 million bail package, to which Mueller’s office initially agreed.

“Even if the ghostwritten op-ed were entirely accurate, fair and balanced, it would be a violation of this court’s Nov. 8 order if it had been published,” prosecutors wrote in their filing on Dec. 4, adding that the then-unpublished opinion piece was “not a dispassionate recitation of the facts.”

The Kyiv Post op-ed ran under the title "Paul Manafort, European Integration’s Unknown Soldier for Ukraine."

"Manafort brought to the Ukrainian political consultancy business a very important rule: An effective leader needs to be consistent as a president with his promises as a candidate," according to the article credited to Voloshyn.

Under Yanukovych, Ukraine made “a number of major steps” towards the European Union and the West, while maintaining its historical ties to Russia before he was driven from power and fled to that country, Voloshyn wrote. 

"Manafort was among those who made those paradoxical accomplishments real," Voloshyn wrote.

Voloshyn, in an interview this week with Bloomberg News, said he wrote the piece on his own initiative. He said he sent it to Manafort only to check facts and incorporated a few of his suggestions.

Voloshyn said he was shocked to see his piece spark the latest controversy in Mueller’s case against Manafort. Voloshyn said he sent a draft of the editorial last week to Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime associate of Manafort in Ukraine, who then forwarded it on to Manafort.

"He just advised me to add that the Yanukovych government also worked actively with the U.S. on nuclear disarmament and with NATO,” Voloshyn said of Manafort. “And since I knew of that as well, I agreed those could be valuable contributions to strengthen my message.”

Intelligence Ties

In their filing earlier this week, prosecutors said Manafort was ghostwriting the editorial with a longtime colleague with ties to a Russian intelligence agency. The filing doesn’t name the colleague. Voloshyn said his point person was Kilimnik, who was Manafort’s right-hand man in Ukraine for almost a decade.

Voloshyn said that when he was at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he’d worked with Manafort on changing perceptions of Ukraine in the West. He said he’d be happy to speak with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation about how he wrote the piece, which he said had nothing to do with the charges against Manafort.

The case is U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

— With assistance by Stephanie Baker

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