Top prosecutor: Trump campaign chairman's meeting with Russian at 'heart' of probe

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Russian-Ukrainian political operative Konstantin Kilimnik met with Manafort, who was Trump's presidential campaign chairman, in January 2017 when he was in the USA capital for Trump's inauguration, according to the transcript of a February 4 court hearing in a federal court in Washington.

According to the transcript, Mueller's team accused Manafort of lying about how many times he had discussed an unspecified topic with Kilimnik.

The transcript also reveals that Manafort met with Kilimnik at Trump's January 2017 inauguration, which is reportedly under investigation separately by the Southern District of NY.

Prosecutors also revealed new details about Manafort's later actions of interest to investigators.

A special counsel prosecutor also suggested in the hearing that the former campaign chairman was not forthcoming because Manafort was angling for a pardon.

Weissmann said at the hearing that the meeting included Rick Gates, Manafort's top deputy on the Trump campaign and in Ukraine who also has pleaded guilty in the Mueller investigation, and that Gates said the men left separately using different exits than Kilimnik.

A prosecutor for special counsel Robert Mueller says the meeting between Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik goes to the "larger view of what we think is going on" and what "we think the motive here is".

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At one point, the prosecutor acknowledges that Manafort may have been playing for a pardon.

Legal analyst Luppe Luppen speculated on Twitter that, in a redacted portion of the transcript, prosecutors may have listed the possibility of a presidential pardon as an "unusual factor" in Manafort's plea agreement. Kilimnik, who was also indicted in the Manafort case but has been beyond the reach of USA law enforcement, has been described by prosecutors as someone with ties to Russian intelligence.

Under his plea deal, prosecutors have only to show that their determination Manafort breached his deal was made in "good faith", which Manafort's attorneys have conceded.

Jackson is set to sentence Manafort on March 13 for two conspiracy counts.

Kilimnik flew on the private jet of Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska for at least one leg of the trip to attend the August 2, 2016 meeting with Manafort, Vice News has reported. He also was convicted by a jury in August in a separate federal case in Virginia for bank and tax fraud crimes.

In another instance during the hearing, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann alleged Manafort may have lied to hide a scheme to funnel cash to himself while doing unpaid work for the Trump campaign. And in 2016. there is an in-person meeting with someone who the government has certainly proffered to this court in the past, is understood by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, assessed to be - have a relationship with Russian intelligence, that there is [redacted].

Manafort's legal team had mistakenly revealed in an improperly redacted court filing on January 8 that Mueller's prosecutors said Manafort had "lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign". Trump told the New York Post at the time.

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