Mueller eyes Manafort meeting with Russian partner in 2016 - court filing

Then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as his campaign manager Paul Manafort looks on during Trump's walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland US

Donald Trump's 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort continued to keep in touch with his Russian associate Konstantin Kilimnik and discuss Ukrainian politics while he was working for the campaign and through past year, and that's become a central issue of Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation, according to a transcript of a closed-door court hearing.

Russian-Ukrainian political operative Konstantin Kilimnik met with Manafort, who was Trump's presidential campaign chairman, in January 2017 when he was in the USA capital for Trump's inauguration, according to the transcript of a February 4 court hearing in a federal court in Washington.

At one point in the discussion, Weissmann describes how Manafort told prosecutors that his topic of discussion with Kilimnik was a "backdoor [REDACTED]. and because of that, he was not going to countenance it".

The transcript revealed that Kilimnik attended Trump's inauguration, and that he and Manafort did political work in Ukraine in 2018 - after Manafort's first indictment in late 2017.

Judging by previous court filings the topic at issue appears to be a "Ukrainian peace plan" that was reportedly aimed at lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia - long an important objective of Russian President Vladimir Putin's government.

Manafort's hopes for a pardon was one of several revelations in the 142-page transcript of a sealed hearing.

Manafort's lawyers have countered that any discrepancies were unintentional as he refreshed his memory or recalled specific details in his sessions with investigators and a grand jury.

Mueller is investigating U.S. allegations that Russian Federation meddled in the election and whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with Moscow officials.

Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik - the aide who also has been indicted in the Mueller investigation - discussed a peace plan for Ukraine on more than one occasion, including during one meeting in August 2016, while Manafort served as Trump's campaign chairman, Manafort's attorneys have said.

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.

In a final allegation, prosecutors have said Manafort lied about the terms of a $125,000 payment toward an apparent debt he incurred to a law firm he employed in 2017.

Kilimnik, who was indicted previous year on charges of witness tampering in Manafort's case, has denied having ties to Russian spy agencies.

Jackson is set to sentence Manafort on March 13 for two conspiracy counts. Manafort faces a separate sentencing in Virginia for bank- and tax-fraud convictions.

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".

In another instance during the hearing, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann alleged Manafort may have lied to hide a scheme to funnel cash to himself while doing unpaid work for the Trump campaign. Trump told the New York Post at the time.

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