The Russia connectionDid Manafort meet Assange?
Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign, the Guardian has been told. Sources have said Manafort went to see Assange in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016 – during the period when Manafort was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House. 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.
The Guardian is reporting exclusively that Paul Manafort visited Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2013, 2015, and in spring 2016 – during the period when Manafort was made a key figure in Trump’s push for the White House. It is unclear why Manafort wanted to see Assange and what was discussed, but the Committee to Investigate Russia notes that 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.
A well-placed source has told the Guardian that Manafort went to see Assange around March 2016. Months later WikiLeaks released a stash of Democratic emails stolen by Russian intelligence officers.
Manafort, 69, denies involvement in the hack and says the claim is “100% false”. His lawyers declined to answer the Guardian’s questions about the visits.
In a series of tweets WikiLeaks said Assange and Manafort had not met. Assange described the story as a hoax.
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”.
According to the sources, Manafort returned to the embassy in 2015. 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.
Embassy staff were aware only later of the potential significance of Manafort’s visit and his political role with Trump, it is understood.
Both Manafort and Assange denied the report.
“Remember this day when the Guardian permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper’s reputation,” Wikileaks tweeted shortly after the publication of the report. “[Wikileaks] is willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor’s head that Manafort never met Assange.”
Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani told the Daily News that Trump knew nothing of the alleged clandestine meeting between Manafort and Assange when he hired the 69-year-old GOP consultant.
“I don’t know about it and if I don’t know about it, he doesn’t know it,” Giuliani told the Daily News. “The President knows very little of Julian Assange.”
Giuliani also said the President hasn’t ruled out pardoning Manafort, although he stressed there hasn’t been any recent discussions on the matter.
“Pardons are never really ruled out,” Giuliani said.
Stone, who reportedly recommended Trump hire Manafort and tweeted out cryptic notes during the lead up to the election, has denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly said publicly he had no knowledge of where the Democratic emails came from.
On Tuesday, he further denied any knowledge of Manafort, his onetime business partner, and Assange meeting one-on-one.
“This is the first I have heard about it and I have no idea whether or not it is true,” he told The News.