On Monday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller accused former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort of being in breach of his plea deal by lying to investigators — accusations Manafort denies. On Tuesday, the Guardian, citing unnamed sources, published a report alleging that Manafort held "secret talks" with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, including one right around the time he joined the Trump campaign.
Manafort denies the claim, and the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where Assange has been holed up in asylum for years, has no record of the alleged visit.
"Sources have said Manafort went to see Assange in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016 – during the period when he was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House," the Guardian reports. "It is unclear why Manafort wanted to see Assange and what was discussed. But the last meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia."
Citing a "well-placed source," the Guardian reports that Manafort allegedly visited Assange for about 40 minutes in March 2016. "Months later WikiLeaks released a stash of Democratic emails stolen by Russian intelligence officers."
Manafort called the claim "100% false" and has repeatedly denied any involvement with the hacking of Clinton campaign aides, a major focus of the Mueller investigation. Manafort's lawyers declined answering the Guardian's questions about the alleged visits.
The Guardian reports that while visitors to the Ecuadorian embassy usually register and provide security guards with identifying papers, there is no record of Manafort's alleged visit, which is "tentatively dated to March."
Manafort reached a plea deal with Mueller in September, agreeing to fully cooperate with the investigation, but Mueller said Monday in a court filing that Manafort violated the deal and accused him of being guilty of various unspecified "crimes and lies," claims Manafort's legal team denies. Legal experts told The Wall Street Journal that Manafort could face ten or more years in prison.
The Guardian's sources say that Manafort's first visit to Assange came in 2013, a year after Assange first sought asylum at the embassy. An internal Ecuadorian intelligence document lists a "Paul Manaford" as having visited the embassy, as well as "Russians."
The Guardian's sources say the second alleged visit occurred in 2015. Manafort then allegedly returned in 2016 in a visit that one source said lasted around 40 minutes. The source specified that Manafort was supposedly wearing "sandy-coloured chinos, a cardigan and a light-coloured shirt," the Guardian notes.
The Guardian underscores that the claims could be of importance to Mueller in "shed[ding] new light on the sequence of events in the run-up to summer 2016, when WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of emails hacked by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. Hillary Clinton has said the hack contributed to her defeat."
Mueller's new accusations against Manafort came the same day as another key potential asset for the special counsel's investigation, Roger Stone associate Jeremy Corsi, announced that he would not agree to a plea deal.
"They can put me in prison the rest of my life. I am not going to sign a lie," Corsi told CNN on Monday. After engaging in talks with investigators for two months, Corsi said that the special counsel wants him to state in a sworn testimony that he is a "felon," but he denies that charge, stating that while he recently amended some of his testimony, he did not intentionally mislead or misstate anything.