Attorney: Manafort did not violate gag order

Chad Day and Nataliya Vasilyeva
Associated Press

Washington — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is denying he violated a judge’s order by reviewing and editing an op-ed intended to be published in an English-language newspaper in Ukraine.

The denial comes after prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office accused Manafort of ghostwriting the op-ed with a longtime colleague “assessed to have ties” to Russian intelligence. The allegation derailed an agreement Manafort and the prosecutors reached about the terms of his bond that would have allowed him to be released from house arrest.

Manafort and his longtime business associate, Rick Gates, are both confined to their homes while they face several felony charges accusing them of money laundering and other financial crimes related to their political consulting work in Ukraine. Last month, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued an order barring either side in the case from making public comments that could prejudice potential jurors.

In court papers filed Thursday, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing argued that the opinion essay would not have violated the order because Manafort only sought to “correct the public record” about his work in Ukraine. He also argued that the prosecutors’ interpretation of the judge’s order would violate Manafort’s First Amendment right to free speech.

Under the prosecutors’ argument, Manafort wouldn’t be able to openly maintain his innocence, Downing said. “He must simply remain silent while his reputation is battered, and potential jurors in this District might be tainted. Fortunately, the fundamental right of freedom of speech is not abrogated because a U.S. citizen is charged with a crime,” he wrote.

In arguing for his client to be released as part of a more than $10 million bond package, Downing also provided more details about the opinion essay in question.

Downing identified Oleg Voloshyn, a former spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, as the author of the opinion piece. It was sent to the Kyiv Post, the Ukrainian capital’s English-language newspaper.

In an interview this week with The Associated Press, Voloshyn also said he authored the op-ed in Manafort’s defense. He said he showed it to Manafort but insisted that Trump’s former campaign chief did not help him draft it.

“I wrote it on my own initiative,” said Voloshyn, who headed the press office at the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry under President Viktor Yanukovych, Manafort’s main client in Ukraine. Before that, Voloshyn worked as a spokesman at the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow.

Voloshyn, who is now a political commentator, said he sent Manafort a draft of the op-ed through Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime employee of Manafort’s in Ukraine. In court papers, prosecutors appeared to refer to Kilimnik as the person “assessed to have ties” to Russian intelligence, but they did not identify him by name. They also did not elaborate on how they determined he had ties to Russian spy agencies.

Asked about the allegations made by prosecutors, Voloshyn said he was “very much baffled by Mueller’s statements.”

Reached by the AP, Kilimnik declined comment.

Kilimnik’s name surfaced earlier this year after it was revealed that Manafort, while he was running Trump’s campaign, offered to provide a Russian billionaire with private briefings about the campaign. Manafort made the offer in an email to Kilimnik in July 2016. The Russian billionaire was Oleg Deripaska, who previously employed Manafort as a consultant.

Manafort’s spokesman Jason Maloni has said that no briefings ever occurred. In a statement to The Washington Post in September, a spokeswoman for Deripaska’s companies dismissed the emails as scheming by “consultants in the notorious ‘Beltway bandit’ industry.”

The emails are currently in the possession of Mueller’s investigators as well as congressional committees investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and any possible collusion with Trump associates.