Federal prosecutors filed three briefs late on Friday portending grave danger for three men: the former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, the former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, and President Donald Trump. In an age when Americans usually get mere squibs of breaking news from Twitter, Facebook, and red-faced cable shouters, many started their weekend poring over complex legal filings and peering suspiciously at blacked-out paragraphs. The documents were stunning, even for 2018.
In brief No. 1, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office argues that Paul Manafort breached his cooperation agreement with the government by lying to the FBI and the Special Counsel’s Office in the course of 12 meetings. The brief oozes a level of confidence notable even among professionally hubristic prosecutors: Mueller says he’s ready to present witnesses and documents, and that he gave Manafort’s lawyers an opportunity to refute the evidence but they could not. Mueller is sure he has the receipts.
According to the brief, Manafort lied about his communications with the reputed Russian intelligence agent Konstantin Kilimnik, whom Mueller has scrutinized as a possible conduit between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Although Mueller’s brief is heavily redacted, it’s clear that Manafort minimized the frequency, duration, and subject of his meetings with Kilimnik. Mueller has emails contradicting Manafort’s description of those meetings, which—we can infer from the unredacted snippets—related to the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russian interests. Mueller also asserts that Manafort lied about some of the payments he received and about an investigation in another district—possibly, based on the context, the Southern District of New York investigation of Michael Cohen and the president. Finally, and of great concern to the White House, Mueller claims that Manafort lied about his contacts with the Trump administration before his guilty plea, and that text messages, documents, and witnesses prove that he was in contact with administration officials.