New Trump-Russia emails could establish a 'devastating' legal entanglement for Paul Manafort
The ongoing investigation into whether President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Moscow during the 2016 election gained new traction on Monday when The Washington Post reported that a foreign-policy adviser, George Papadopolous, sent at least six emails during the campaign offering to set up meetings with Russian leaders.
Papadopolous sent the first email to seven campaign advisers in March 2016 with the subject line "Meeting with Russian Leadership - Including Putin." His requests were reportedly met with hesitancy from multiple campaign officials, including retired Navy Rear Adm. Charles Kubic, who voiced concerns about violating both US sanctions on Russia and the Logan Act, a law forbidding US citizens from negotiating with foreign governments without authorization.
Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman and a current subject in the Russia investigation, also expressed concerns about the proposal and rejected Papadopoulos' request for a meeting between Trump and Russian officials in May 2016, according to The Post.
Manafort's rejection stands in contrast to his willingness to accept a meeting with a Russian lawyer weeks later in June, a point that Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, raised after the story broke.
Mariotti wrote in a series of tweets that perhaps the most important implication of the news was that "everyone on those emails was aware of the concerns expressed in the emails about meeting with Russians, including Admiral Kubic's concern about the legality of meeting with Russia."
"If anyone on those emails later met with Russians or accepted aid from them," Mariotti continued, "the prior emails about concerns could be used to indicate that they knew that the meeting was problematic and potentially illegal but nonetheless persisted."
The meeting Manafort attended in June included Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. and his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. Also present were Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin; Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian lobbyist and former Soviet military intelligence officer; Anatoli Samachornov, a translator; and Rob Goldstone, the British music publicist who arranged the meeting at the request of Aras and Emin Agalarov, a wealthy Russian family.
The legal issues 'are very similar, if not the same'
What may account for Manafort's rejection of one meeting and acceptance of the other is that Papadopoulos' was "pitched as a Trump-level meeting," said Andrew Wright, an associate professor at Savannah Law School.
In one email in April 2016 to Corey Lewandowski, the campaign manager at the time, Papadopoulos said he had gotten "a lot of calls over the past month" about how "Putin wants to host the Trump team when the time is right," according to The Post.
Papadopoulos followed up on May 4, sending Lewandowski and Sam Clovis, the campaign cochairman, a message he'd received from Ivan Timofeev, a senior official at the Russian International Affairs Council, that Russian officials were open to Trump visiting Moscow.
Clovis replied, "There are legal issues we need to mitigate, meeting with foreign officials as a private citizen," according to the report.
Papadopoulos forwarded the message to Manafort right after he was named Trump's campaign chairman.
"Russia has been eager to meet with Mr. Trump for some time and have been reaching out to me to discuss," Papadopoulos said, according to The Post.
Manafort forwarded the email to an associate and said, "We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips," The Post reported. They then agreed to have someone else handle the response, indicating that it did not require a reply from a senior official like Manafort.
The proposal of a Trump-Putin meeting by Papadopoulos — a lower-level campaign aide who told campaign officials he was acting as an intermediary for the Russian government — is "a very different calculus" than the president's son suggesting a meeting with a Russian lawyer, Wright said, and that may have factored into Manafort's decisions about whether to accept the meetings.
Still, he added, the legal issues about possible violations of the Logan Act and US sanctions against Russia "are very similar, if not the same."
'Devastating evidence in a trial'
A spokesman for Manafort, Jason Maloni, told The Post that Papadopoulos' email chain was "concrete evidence that the Russia collusion narrative is fake news."
"Mr. Manafort's swift action reflects the attitude of the campaign — any invitation by Russia, directly or indirectly, would be rejected outright," Maloni said.
However, the meeting Manafort attended in June 2016 was described in an email to Trump Jr. from Goldstone as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." Trump Jr. forwarded Manafort that email chain, in which Goldstone provided more details of the meeting.
"If you're Paul Manafort and your defense is to say, 'I didn't think taking this meeting was a problem,' and then you have the prosecutor showing the jury emails that were sent a month earlier where people are raising precisely those same legal concerns — that's such devastating evidence in a trial," Wright said.
"I expect those earlier emails to be used against Manafort, who is already in the hot seat after the FBI executed a search warrant at his home," he wrote, referring to Papadopoulos' correspondence. "Although Manafort's lawyer suggests that the emails exonerate him, they appear problematic in light of the later meeting."
Manafort has come under increased public scrutiny after The Post reported last week that the FBI conducted a predawn raid on his home in July.
Agents working with Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the bureau's Russia investigation, left Manafort's home "with various records," according to The Post.
Manafort has been cooperating with investigators' requests for relevant documents. But the search warrant obtained by the FBI in July indicates that Mueller managed to convince a federal judge that Manafort would try to conceal or destroy documents subpoenaed by a grand jury.