WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump does not know whether his former campaign chairman ever met with Julian Assange before Assange released stolen emails in an effort to help him win the presidency, Trump’s lawyer said Tuesday.
“I have no idea if Paul Manafort met with Julian Assange. The president has no idea if Paul Manafort met with Julian Assange,” Rudy Giuliani told HuffPost, adding that it wouldn’t prove anything nefarious even if Manafort had done so. “I don’t care if he met Assange over the years. I know there were no conversations between the president and Manafort about Assange.”
The WikiLeaks founder has been holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London for the past six years to avoid sexual assault charges in Sweden. His contacts with Trump’s campaign have been a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election on behalf of Trump.
The Guardian on Tuesday reported that Manafort had had multiple meetings with Assange dating back to 2013, including one in March 2016 ― just as Manafort effectively took control of Trump’s campaign as he closed in on the Republican nomination.
Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor and New York City mayor who is representing Trump in the Mueller probe, said Manafort’s lawyer told him the Guardian story is wrong.
“Absolutely untrue. He wasn’t in London at the time,” Giuliani said. He then allowed that he did not know if that was correct.
Manafort himself released a statement later Tuesday calling the article “libelous” and claiming he was thinking of suing The Guardian. “I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him,” Manafort said in the statement. “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.”
Assange runs the WikiLeaks group, which the U.S. intelligence community has concluded acted as an arm of Russian intelligence agencies working to help elect Trump in 2016 at the direction of that country’s authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin.
Starting in early October 2016 and running through Election Day, Assange released emails stolen by Russian spies belonging to John Podesta, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair.
Trump talked up the emails and their contents each day at his campaign events – even though he began receiving intelligence briefings two months earlier that would have told him of the Russian involvement, and despite an Oct. 7, 2016, public statement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security that described WikiLeaks as a participant in the “Russian-directed efforts.”
“WikiLeaks! We love WikiLeaks,” Trump repeatedly told his audiences, urging them to go to the group’s website and read the stolen documents for themselves.
Earlier that summer, Trump had publicly called on Russia to find Clinton’s emails from a private server she had used. And weeks before that, his son Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and Manafort had met with Russians at Trump’s campaign headquarters in New York after the Russians had promised “dirt” on Clinton.
Two other Trump allies, longtime Republican consultant and lobbyist Roger Stone and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, in recent weeks have both publicly said they expect to be charged by Mueller’s team in connection with their involvement with Assange and the stolen emails.
Giuliani, nevertheless, claims Trump did not work with Russians to get elected.
“There’s no proof that Trump colluded with the Russians. It’s a joke,” Giuliani said, pointing to his own months as an adviser to Trump’s campaign. “Manafort doesn’t know about collusion. If he knew about collusion, I would know about collusion.”
He then launched into an attack on Mueller’s investigation and team of prosecutors, who he claimed are unduly coercing Manafort.
“We’re talking about white-collar crime. Nobody’s dying, nobody’s being abused, nobody’s being sexually assaulted,” he said, calling Mueller’s probe “bullshit” and his prosecutors “bozos” for putting Manafort in solitary confinement while awaiting sentencing. “You don’t exert undue pressure on people. You’re not God... Mueller is not reining them in. There’s no adult supervision.”
Manafort, 69, pleaded guilty on fraud and obstruction of justice charges on Sept. 14 and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a lighter prison sentence. However, Mueller’s team late Monday told the federal judge handling the case that Manafort had repeatedly lied to investigators in breach of his plea deal, and asked that sentencing be scheduled as soon as possible.
A sentencing date has not yet been set.