A meeting in March of 2016 between Paul Manafort — who was hired that same month by Donald Trump to work on his presidential campaign — and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in the London Ecuadorian embassy, reported Monday morning by the Guardian, could provide the crucial piece of evidence for special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. This is the stance taken by a former federal prosecutor who purports to be an expert on the case.
With Mueller zeroing in on Trump associate Roger Stone, a longtime Trump consultant and friend, for what appears to be Stone’s advance knowledge that Wikileaks would release thousands of hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign, former federal prosecutor Renato Marioti said via his Twitter feed that the Manafort-Assange meeting, if confirmed, would “be a big step” toward charging Stone with a crime. Though, as Marioti admits, there may still be more facts to uncover before nailing down a criminal collusion case.
“Mueller could argue that there was an understanding that the emails would be distributed and ‘weaponized’ by Trump associates after they were released by the Russians via WikiLeaks,” Marioti said via Twitter. “But it can be hard to prove an agreement without a cooperator, tapes, or emails/texts.”
Manafort actively sought a job on the Trump campaign starting in February of 2016, and was hired by Trump on March 28, according to a timeline provided by Slate. From the Guardian report, the exact date of the alleged March 2016 meeting between Manafort and Assange remains unclear.
Manafort is also a longtime associate of Stone, starting a political consulting firm with Stone in the early 1980s — and taking on Trump as their first client, as the Inquisitr has reported.
Another possible link between Stone and Manafort emerged in June of this year when the Washington Post reported that in May of 2016 — the same month that Trump promoted Manafort to be chair of his campaign — Stone held a meeting with a shadowy Russian who used the alias “Henry Greenberg,” and an equally mysterious Ukrainian identified only as “Alexei.”
Manafort worked extensively in Ukraine, helping to elect that country’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich. But when Yanukovioch was deposed by a popular, pro-Western uprising in 2014, Manafort was forced to look for new work. But for reasons yet to be explained, he offered to work for the Trump campaign free of charge, as the New York Times recounted. What other benefit Manafort felt he could reap from his work on the Trump campaign remains an open question.
Manafort has denied that the meetings with Assange as reported by the Guardian took place. Wikileaks also posted a Twitter message Tuesday reading, “Wikileaks is willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor’s head that Manafort never met Assange.”