WASHINGTON — In an attempt to burnish his public image and leave no fingerprints behind, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort recently enlisted a longtime colleague “assessed to have ties” to Russian intelligence to help him ghostwrite an op-ed, prosecutors said Monday.
Prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller say in court papers that they believe the opinion piece written while Manafort is on house arrest facing several felonies would have violated a judge’s order that bars him from trying his case in the press.
They are now pushing for Manafort to remain confined to his home on GPS monitoring for the time being.
According to the court papers , Manafort and the colleague sought to publish the op-ed to influence public opinion about his political consulting in Ukraine, work at the heart of the criminal case against him. The op-ed was being drafted as late as last week.
Prosecutors did not name Manafort’s colleague, who is currently based in Russia, or provide details of how they determined the person had ties to a spy agency. Reached Monday, a spokesman for Manafort declined comment.
Manafort is currently facing several felony charges involving allegations of money laundering and other financial crimes related to his political consulting work in Ukraine. Manafort has denied any wrongdoing. A trial is scheduled for next year.
In the court filing, prosecutors say the op-ed appeared to violate an admonishment from the judge last month to refrain from public statements. An op-ed is an opinion essay written to be published in some form, usually on a website or in a newspaper or magazine. It is usually marked as representing the views of the writer and separated from news content.
“Even if the ghostwritten op-ed were entirely accurate, fair, and balanced, it would be a violation of this Court’s November 8 Order if it had been published,” the prosecutors wrote. “The editorial clearly was undertaken to influence the public’s opinion of defendant Manafort, or else there would be no reason to seek its publication (much less for Manafort and his long-time associate to ghostwrite it in another’s name).”
They added, “It compounds the problem that the proposed piece is not a dispassionate recitation of the facts.”
Prosecutors said they discovered the efforts to publish the op-ed last Thursday and alerted Manafort’s attorney, who assured prosecutors that “steps would be taken to make sure it was no longer going to be published.”
At the time, Manafort was working to secure his release from home confinement by posting more than $10 million in bond, and according to court papers, he had reached a tentative agreement with the government. But after discovering the op-ed, Mueller’s team is now opposing Manafort’s proposed bond agreement.
Prosecutors did not disclose the op-ed in court papers so as to prevent it from becoming public. They also did not disclose what name the ghostwritten op-ed would have been published under.
Manafort and his longtime business associate, Rick Gates, were indicted in October by a grand jury in Washington. They were among the first people to face charges brought by the special counsel’s office.
Manafort led the Trump campaign for several months, including during the Republican National Convention. Gates also worked in a senior role on the campaign.
Mueller has been leading a wide-ranging investigation into Russia’s election interference and any co-ordination with Trump associates.