The Guardian published an article on Nov. 26 saying that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort met with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in 2013, 2015, and again in 2016. Citing unnamed sources, The Guardian also reported that Manafort’s association with Assange could go back as far as 2012.
Manafort denied the accusations in a statement: “I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to WikiLeaks, either directly or indirectly. I have never reached out to Assange or WikiLeaks on any matter.”
Julian Assange, through a series of tweets sent by WikiLeaks, said the meetings did not occur.
No other news source has corroborated The Guardian’s story and the publication has added some qualifying language to the article after it was published, but continues to stand by its reporting. The article also notes that Manafort’s lawyers “initially declined to answer the Guardian’s questions about the visits.”
According to The Guardian, Manafort first visited Assange in 2013, about a year after Assange sought asylum inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. A second visit allegedly took place in 2015 before a final meeting in March of 2016. Notably, there was no visit during 2014 cited.
According to The Guardian, Manafort’s first visit was also attended by others:
“A separate internal document written by Ecuador’s Senain intelligence agency and seen by the Guardian lists “Paul Manaford [sic]” as one of several well-known guests. It also mentions “Russians.”
It’s not clear if Manafort’s second visit was limited to just himself, but The Guardian reports his 2016 visit involved only Manafort and Assange:
“He paid another visit in spring 2016, turning up alone, around the time Trump named him as his convention manager. The visit is tentatively dated to March.
Manafort’s 2016 visit to Assange lasted about 40 minutes, one source said, adding that the American was casually dressed when he exited the embassy, wearing sandy-coloured chinos, a cardigan and a light-coloured shirt.
Visitors normally register with embassy security guards and show their passports. Sources in Ecuador, however, say Manafort was not logged.”
Although the Guardian story may ultimately be disproven, there is another intriguing series of contacts that took place between the lawyer of Russian Oligarch Oleg Deripaska, Adam Waldman, and Julian Assange and high ranking US officials.
Manafort has pleaded guilty in two separate cases in Virginia and the District of Columbia unrelated to his work for the Trump campaign. In the Virginia Case, Manafort pleaded guilty to crimes related to money he made made lobbying for Ukrainian politicians along with crimes related to bank and tax fraud. In the DC case, Manafort was charged with crimes relating to money laundering, FARA violations, and obstruction of justice.
More recently, Manafort was accused of lying to the FBI and the team of special counsel Robert Mueller on a “variety of subject matters” including “his personal business dealings and about his contacts with a former associate in Ukraine” and had therefore breached his plea agreement. A pending sentencing submission will detail Manafort’s “crimes and lies.”
Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, referred to Manafort in an MSNBC interview as a “serial liar,” saying, “he lies about the smallest things. He lies about the biggest things.”
In addition to Manafort’s Ukrainian ties, Manafort has long been associated with Deripaska. In fact, it was the reporting of $12.7 million in undisclosed Ukrainian payments along with Manafort’s financial involvement with Deripaska that reportedly led then-candidate Trump to note, “I’ve got a crook running my campaign.”
Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates, were closely associated with Deripaska from 2005 to 2009 and maintained contact until at least 2011. For the next several years, their ties became more ambiguous. What is known is that in 2014 Deripaska filed a lawsuit against Manafort in the Cayman Islands claiming that Manafort and Gates had “simply disappeared.” Deripaska filed a second lawsuit in a Virginia court in 2015.
The lawsuits relate to an investment fund, Pericles Emerging Markets. The fund was started by Manafort and several partners in 2007. Deripaska was the financial backer of the fund and agreed to commit as much as $100 million, although he apparently only invested $18.9 million in 2008 to finance the purchase of Black Sea Cable. Deripaska has also claimed that he paid “about $7.3 million in management fees to the fund over two years.”
At the time that Deripaska filed his first lawsuit, Manafort found himself in financial trouble as his payments from Ukraine dried up in 2014. Manafort was interviewed by the FBI in July 2014, and began taking out loans on his real estate properties. In the meantime, Manafort remained indebted to Deripaska.
As detailed in a previous article, Deripaska has long been seeking stable visa access to the United States and went to some extraordinary efforts, including a collaboration with the FBI from 2008 to 2010. Deripaska was rewarded for his efforts and was allowed entry into the United States “eight times between 2011 and 2014 with government permission as a Russian diplomat.”
In addition to Deripaska, there was another high-profile individual seeking access to the United States, and he had the help of Deripaska’s lawyer, Adam Waldman. In 2017, Waldman was also representing Julian Assange. Waldman also, at the same time, represented interests of Christopher Steele. Steele, a former MI6 agent, is one of the authors of the Steele dossier on then candidate Donald Trump, which was paid for by the DNC and the Clinton campaign.
Steele has known Deripaska since at least 2012, when he was hired by Waldman on behalf of Deripaska to assist in a lawsuit filed “by a business rival,” according to an article by John Solomon for The Hill. In late 2014, Steele and DOJ official Bruce Ohr met in Washington to discuss cultivating Deripaska into an FBI informant on Russian organized crime, according to a New York Times article.
Ohr would later act as a conduit between Steele and the FBI in 2016 and 2017 in the context of the agency’s counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign.
In 2015, Steele helped set up a meeting between Deripaska and the FBI, but wasn’t directly involved in the meeting itself, according to The New York Times article. Ohr, however, was personally involved in the meeting, which reportedly involved pressing Deripaska “on the connections between Russian organized crime and Mr. Putin’s government, as well as other issues.”
During a series of communications in early 2016, Steele appeared to be lobbying Ohr on Deripaska’s behalf—and Waldman’s name was also mentioned:
On Jan. 12, 2016, Steele sent Ohr a New Year’s greeting by email and brought up Deripaska’s visa case:
Steele: I heard from Adam Waldman yesterday that OD is applying for another official US visa ice [sic] APEC business at the end of February.” Deripaska is being “encouraged by the Agency guys who told Adam that the USG [United States Government] stance on [Deripaska] is softening. … A positive development it seems.
On Feb. 8, 2016, Deripaska was mentioned again. He had been granted a visa to visit the United States. This time, Steele appeared to be asking Ohr to provide inside information regarding Deripaska’s visa status:
Steele: Our old friend OD apparently has been granted another official visa to come to the US later this month. … As far as I’m concerned, this is good news all round although as before, it would be helpful if you could monitor it and let me know if any complications arise.”
Ohr: To the extent I can I will keep an eye on the situation.
As Steele and Ohr were having their discussions, Manafort reached out to the Trump campaign on Feb. 29, 2016.
“It was Mr. Manafort who initiated the process for getting a job on the campaign, the documents show. It began when he sent two succinct memos to Mr. Trump through Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a mutual friend,” The New York Times reported on April 8, 2017.
As noted by Manafort, his previous contact with Trump had been minimal:
“Donald Trump and I had some business in the 1980s but we had no relationship until the Trump campaign called me,” The New York Times reported.
On March 28, 2016, Manafort was hired by the Trump campaign to manage the team’s efforts at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Manafort was initially hired to lead the campaign’s delegate effort but was soon promoted, becoming Trump’s campaign chairman and chief strategist on May 19, 2016. His tenure was short-lived—on Aug. 19, 2016, Manafort was forced to resign from the campaign.
During his time with the Trump campaign, Manafort was in regular contact with Konstantin Kilimnik, his longtime employee in Kiev. Many of their emails, parts of which have been published by The Washington Post, appear to pertain to Deripaska.
In one email, Manafort referred to his positive press and growing reputation and asked, “How do we use to get whole?” The Atlantic reported that Kilimnik sent Deripaska press clips regarding Manafort’s new role and provided indications to Manafort that the relationship with Deripaska might be repaired: “I am more than sure that it will be resolved and we will get back to the original relationship.”
On July 7, 2016, Manafort sent an email to Kilimnik regarding Deripaska, saying, “If he needs private briefings we can accommodate.”
On July 29, 2016, Kilimnik told Manafort he had spent five hours with “the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar several years ago.” This is almost certainly a reference to Deripaska. Kilimnik said “the guy” wanted to pass a message on to Manafort. “It has to do about the future of his country, and is quite interesting,” he said.
In September 2016, Deripaska had another meeting with the FBI where they reportedly asked Deripaska about Manafort’s ties to Russia. The FBI also reportedly “posited a theory that Trump’s campaign was secretly colluding with Russia to hijack the U.S. election.” Deripaska reportedly dismissed the idea, telling the FBI, “You are trying to create something out of nothing.”
In January 2017, a strange sequence of events concerning Assange began to unfold when the Assange legal team first approached Waldman regarding possible negotiations for “limited immunity and safe passage out of a London embassy to talk with U.S. officials.” The Hill reported the following:
“They hoped Waldman, a former Clinton Justice Department official, might navigate the U.S. law enforcement bureaucracy and find the right people to engage.”
“Assange had a bargaining chip: The U.S. government knew he had a massive trove of documents from classified CIA computers, identifying sensitive assets and chronicling the agency’s offensive cyber warfare weapons.”
Almost immediately after accepting the Assange engagement, Waldman contacted Bruce Ohr:
“Waldman contacted Ohr, a Justice official he’d met during the Russia election case. They talked by phone and encrypted text messages in early January, then met Feb. 3, 2017, in Washington, records show.”
Waldman also met three times with Assange in London in January 2017, according to The Guardian:
“Waldman allegedly visited Assange twice on 12 and 13 January 2017, days before Trump’s inauguration as president, and again immediately after the ceremony, on 27 January.”
The Guardian also reported that in addition to the January meetings, Waldman was in London in March 2017 when he saw Assange twice more and specifically visited Assange three times in April and “made two more visits at the end of November 2017.”
“It is not clear whether Waldman was brokering the deal on Assange’s behalf or someone else’s…Deripaska is a key person in the investigation by the special counsel Robert Mueller into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow,” Luke Harding wrote. Harding is the same reporter who wrote on Manafort’s meetings with Assange.
On Jan. 27, 2017, Steele sent another text to Ohr that may have related to Assange, although it’s also possible the text related to Deripaska:
Steele: Hi B! Our guy’s OK for the time being but I would like to keep our channel open on him and his situation if that’s all right? Many thanks for your support and Best wishes.
Ohr: Understood. We will be available if needed. Just let me know.
On Jan. 31, 2017, Steele followed up with Ohr:
Steele: B, doubtless a sad and crazy day for you-SY [Sally Yates]. Just wanted to check you are OK, still in situ and able to help locally as discussed, along with your Bureau colleagues, with our guy if the need arises? Many Thanks and Best as Always, C
Ohr: Yes, a crazy day. I’m still here and able to help as discussed. I’ll let you know if that changes. Thanks!
Steele: Thanks. You have my sympathy and support. If you end up out though, I really need another (Bureau?) contact point/number who is briefed. We can’t allow our guy to be forced to go back home. It would be disastrous all round, though his position now looks stable. A million thanks. C
Ohr: Understood. I can certainly give you an FBI contact if it becomes necessary.
In February 2017, Waldman formally began negotiations with the DOJ concerning a possible immunity deal for Assange:
“Waldman negotiated with the Justice Department on a possible deal to get the WikiLeaks founder limited immunity and safe passage out of a London embassy to talk with U.S. officials.”
“In return, Assange would provide technical information to the U.S. ruling out certain suspects in the release of hacked DNC emails key to the Russia case, identify vulnerabilities in the CIA’s computer systems and talk about measures to protect certain sensitive information in future releases by Wikileaks.”
On Feb. 3, 2017, Waldman met in Washington with Ohr. Immediately following that meeting, Waldman was contacted by David Laufman, a Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of counterintelligence for the DOJ’s National Security Division, via an email:
“I am following up on a conversation you had with Bruce Ohr at the Department of Justice. Please give me a call as soon as possible; would like to set up a conference call this evening with some colleagues to hear what your client is seeking and has to offer.”
Laufman abruptly resigned from his position a year later on Feb. 8, 2018. A number of other high-ranking DOJ and FBI officials, including Rachel Brand (Associate Attorney General—resigned Feb. 9), James Rybicki (Chief of Staff to FBI Director James Comey & Current FBI Director Chris Wray—resigned Jan. 23, 2018), Josh Campbell (Special Assistant to James Comey—resigned on Feb. 2, 2018) and Michael Kortan (FBI Asst. Director Public Affairs—resigned on Feb. 8, 2018) all resigned within days of each other.
On Feb. 14, 2017, a series of encrypted texts between Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Waldman began. The actual exchanges may have originated earlier but these are the first dates made public.
Warner had replaced Senator Dianne Feinstein as Vice Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in November 2016, and in doing so also became a member of the Gang of Eight. By nature of his position, Warner would have been fully aware that his text exchanges, although encrypted, would have been visible to the NSA. It should also be noted that Warner’s contact on the Assange matter “was shared with Senate Intelligence chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).”
On Feb. 15, 2017, Waldman sent Warner this text regarding the negotiations with Assange:
“Mark, I wanted to let you know that everyone I have spoken with in USG [US Government] about this matter, each of whom I have also been entirely transparent with about my motives in trying to assist, has assured me that they understand and appreciate my efforts. Perhaps that’s wrong but I wanted to pass along to you. I told Assange just as I told the USG that I would end this pro bono role if I found that the objective (safe passage to discuss w USG the past and future leaks) could not be achieved.”
The following day, Waldman followed up with Warner in this rather ominous-sounding text in an apparent reference to Assange:
“Just want to underscore my opinion and the reason I got involved – this guy is going to do something catastrophic for the dems, Obama, CIA and national security. I hope someone will consider getting him to the US to ameliorate the damage.”
During this same period in February, Warner reached out to then-FBI Director James Comey regarding the negotiations involving Assange. As reported by John Solomon of The Hill, Comey issued a stand-down order regarding any further negotiations, but it appears he was overridden by someone within the DOJ—possibly Laufman—and negotiations with Assange continued:
“He [Warner] told me he had just talked with Comey and that, while the government was appreciative of my efforts, my instructions were to stand down, to end the discussions with Assange,” Solomon said Waldman told him.
Solomon reported that Waldman couldn’t believe that Warner and Comey were sending a different signal and that Laufman assured him negotiations were still on.
“What Laufman said to me after he heard I was told to ‘stand down’ by Warner and Comey was, ‘That’s bullshit. You are not standing down and neither am I,’” Solomon wrote.
Timing of Events
At the start of March 2017, a number of events, some potentially inter-related, took place.
On March 1, the New York Times reported that Obama Administration “officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election—and about possible contacts between associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Russians—across the government.”
On March 2, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from involvement with the FBI’s Russia investigation.
On March 4, 2017, President Trump wrote on Twitter that he had been surveilled by the Obama Administration:
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
During this same period, Deripaska began taking out newspaper advertisements saying he was willing to testify before Congress:
“In March, Mr. Deripaska took out newspaper ads stating that he was willing to participate in hearings before Congress after The Associated Press published a report alleging that Mr. Manafort had provided him with a plan in 2005 outlining steps to “greatly benefit the Putin government,” by influencing politics and news coverage in the United States. Mr. Deripaska has denied ever entering into such an arrangement and sued The A.P. for libel last month,” The New York Times reported on May 26, 2017.
Deripaska would make the same offer again in May 2017.
On March 7, 2017, in what appears to be a negotiating tactic by Assange, WikiLeaks released thousands of files relating to the CIA’s arsenal of hacking tools. These included cyber-tools that could be used to convert cellphones and other devices into surveillance tools. Some of these tools were also able to bypass encryption-enabled applications like WhatsApp and Telegram.
The release by WikiLeaks, known as Vault 7, did not appear to deter negotiations as a reported mid-March email from Waldman to Laufman seems to indicate:
“Dear David, I relayed our conversations to Assange and he had a generally positive view of it.”
In the midst of the ongoing Assange negotiations, Waldman met on March 16 with former staffer of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dan Jones, who had recently begun working with Fusion GPS and Steele. The meeting was highlighted in a Daily Caller op-ed written by Deripaska.
“On March 16, 2017, Daniel Jones—himself a team member of Fusion GPS, self-described former FBI agent and, as we now know from the media, an ex-Feinstein staffer—met with my lawyer, Adam Waldman, and described Fusion as a “shadow media organization helping the government,” funded by a “group of Silicon Valley billionaires and George Soros,” Deripaska wrote.
On the same day as the Waldman-Jones meeting, Dan Coats was sworn in as the new Director of National Intelligence. Comey would later testify in March 2017 before Congress that he immediately briefed Coats on the ongoing Russia Investigation. Comey also somewhat cryptically implied that he had not briefed former DNI Clapper.
“I don’t know what the DNI’s knowledge of it was because we didn’t have a DNI until Mr. Coats took office and I briefed him his first morning in office,” Comey said.
On March 17, 2017, Waldman again texted Warner: “Chris Steele asked me to call you.”
The following day, on March 18, 2017, Steele sent a concerned-sounding text to Ohr:
Steele: “Hi! Just wondering if you had any news? Obviously, we’re a bit apprehensive given scheduled appearance at Congress on Monday. Hoping that important firewalls will hold. Many thanks.”
Ohr: “Sorry, no new news. I believe my earlier information is still accurate. I will let you know immediately if there is any change.”
FBI Director Comey was scheduled to testify before Congress on March 20, 2017. During his testimony, Comey stated that he intentionally withheld congressional notification of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Russian election interference until some weeks prior to his testimony.
On March 23, 2017, Warner sent Waldman a text that appears to relate to Paul Manafort: “Need to coordinate date for trip can you talk with my scheduler also want to discuss Paul.”
Two days later, on March 25, 2017, Waldman sent Warner the following text: “Deripaska is in London Monday-Thursday and I might be able to arrange a mtg w him too if you wish. I discussed it with him today and he seemed interested.”
The following day, Waldman followed up with another text to Warner: “I have an idea to explore w you. Pls call when you’re free.”
Deripaska had either just arrived in London or was about to arrive.
Toward the end of March, the negotiations regarding Assange became more serious. On March 28, 2017, Waldman sent an email to Laufman that appeared to lay out conditions:
“Subject to adequate and binding protections, including but not limited to an acceptable immunity and safe passage agreement, Mr. Assange welcomes the opportunity to discuss with the U.S. government risk mitigation approaches relating to CIA documents in WikiLeaks’ possession or control, such as the redaction of agency personnel in hostile jurisdictions and foreign espionage risks to WikiLeaks staff,” Waldman wrote Laufman on March 28, 2017.
On March 30, 2017, the conversation between Warner and Waldman shifts to Steele,and Warner appears to be attempting to arrange a call with Steele via Waldman:
Waldman: Chris is concerned about the leaks yesterday. He has been trying to reach me and we are going to talk in the next eight hours. Then will revert.
Warner: Ok but I would like to do prelim call u me and him no one else before letter just so we have to trail to start want to discuss scope first before letter no leaks
Waldman: Yesterday’s press might have run him off. I just spoke w him and He’s huddled w lawyers now and will tell me his position later in the day.
Warner: We want to do this right private in London don’t want to send letter yet cuz if we can’t get agreement wud rather not have paper trail
The leak Waldman was referring to was an NBC article which stated that the Senate Intelligence Committee was arranging an interview with Steele.
On March 31, 2017, Warner and Waldman had this brief exchange:
Warner: Keep me informed also any news from ur other guy on manafort
Waldman: My other guy, like Steele, very mistrustful of USG. He’s been essentially shut out of the country and dragged through the mud. I explored this question w him last night in person.
Waldman: Update re the other guy, my contact at DOJ has gone silent for 72 hrs. I gave him what he asked for and now don’t hear from him. Please let me know if you hear anything. Will keep trying until I sense there is no appetite on either side for resolution.
Waldman: Interestingly just heard from DOJ that they received and are considering.
Although this exchange is somewhat confusing, there may be two “other guys.” The first reference being to Deripaska and the second being to Assange. The Guardian reported that “Waldman was in London in late March, when he saw Assange twice more.”
On April 5, 2017, Laufman pressed Waldman in an email regarding the terms to be accepted by Assange:
“As we give continued consideration ot the substance of your proposed proffer, please clarify a procedural point: namely, in your March 28, 2017, email, you indicate that Mr. Assange is seeking a “safe passage agreement.” What kind of “safe passage” is he asking for — the ability to return to the embassy after a meeting elsewhere in London, if such a meeting can be arranged, or something else?”
Assange did not appear to be overly impressed with Laufman’s terms as WikiLeaks released a second series of documents relating to CIA malware used for cyber attacks on April 7.
On April 10 2017 Waldman texted Warner regarding all three of his clients—Steele, Assange and Deripaska:
Hi. Steele: would like to get a bi partisan letter from the committee; Assange: I convinced him to make serious and important concessions and am discussing those w DOJ; Deripaska: willing to testify to congress but interested in state of play w Manafort. I will be with him next tuesday for a week.
Negotiations on Assange appear to fall apart at this point as there are no further references to Assange in the remaining public texts.
Several days later, CIA Director Mike Pompeo slammed Assange and WikiLeaks in an April 13 speech:
“WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service. It has encouraged its followers to find jobs at CIA in order to obtain intelligence. It directed Chelsea Manning in her theft of specific secret information. And it overwhelmingly focuses on the United States, while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organizations.”
“It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is—a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
On Aug. 16, 2017, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher visited Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy, as The Hill reported:
“Julian Assange told a U.S. congressman on Tuesday he can prove the leaked Democratic Party documents he published during last year’s election did not come from Russia and promised additional helpful information about the leaks in the near future.”
“Our three-hour meeting covered a wide array of issues, including the WikiLeaks exposure of the DNC [Democratic National Committee] emails during last year’s presidential election,” Rohrabacher said, “Julian emphatically stated that the Russians were not involved in the hacking or disclosure of those emails.”
“Julian also indicated that he is open to further discussions regarding specific information about the DNC email incident that is currently unknown to the public,” he said.”
Waldman would visit Assange two final times, both in November 2017.
On April 5, 2018, Waldman’s firm, the Endeavor Group severed ties with Deripaska, after nearly nines years of representation.
The following day, on April 6, the United States imposed sanctions against 24 Russians, including Deripaska, who called the decision “very unfortunate but not unexpected.”
On Oct. 8, the U.S. government moved to freeze Deripaska’s U.S. assets, including mansions in Manhattan and Washington.
On Nov. 16, it was revealed through an apparent court error that criminal charges against Assange had been filed. Following a Nov. 27 ruling, the charges against Assange will remain sealed for the time being as the judge awaits more information.