Report: FBI used media leaks against Manafort after repeated warnings about ‘black cash ledger’

by WorldTribune Staff, June 23, 2019

The FBI relied on a document known as the “black cash ledger”, which in the summer of 2016 precipitated Paul Manafort’s resignation as then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign manager,  despite receiving multiple warnings that it was a fake, a June 19 report said.

“In search warrant affidavits, the FBI portrayed the ledger as one reason it resurrected a criminal case against Manafort that was dropped in 2014 and needed search warrants in 2017 for bank records to prove he worked for the Russian-backed Party of Regions in Ukraine,” John Solomon noted in a report for The Hill.

Paul Manafort

The FBI and Mueller’s office did not cite the actual ledger — which would require agents to discuss their assessment of the evidence — and instead cited media reports about it. The feds assisted on one of those stories as sources.

The FBI made use of the ledger despite being repeatedly warned the document couldn’t be trusted and likely was a fake, Solomon reported, citing documents and more than a dozen interviews with knowledgeable sources.

Ukraine’s top anti-corruption prosecutor, Nazar Kholodnytsky, told Solomon he warned the U.S. State Department’s law enforcement liaison and multiple FBI agents in late summer 2016 that Ukrainian authorities who recovered the ledger believed it likely was a fraud.

“It was not to be considered a document of Manafort. It was not authenticated. And at that time it should not be used in any way to bring accusations against anybody,” Kholodnytsky said, recalling what he told FBI agents.

Manafort’s Ukrainian business partner Konstantin Kilimnik, a regular informer for the State Department, told the U.S. government almost immediately after The New York Times wrote about the ledger in August 2016 that the document probably was fake.

Manafort “could not have possibly taken large amounts of cash across three borders. It was always a different arrangement — payments were in wire transfers to his companies, which is not a violation,” Kilimnik wrote in an email to a senior U.S. official on Aug. 22, 2016.

He added: “I have some questions about this black cash stuff, because those published records do not make sense. The time frame doesn’t match anything related to payments made to Manafort. … It does not match my records. All fees Manafort got were wires, not cash.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and the FBI were given copies of Kilimnik’s warning, according to three sources familiar with the documents.

Solomon noted that “Submitting knowingly false or suspect evidence — whether historical or to support probable cause — in a federal court proceeding violates FBI rules and can be a crime under certain circumstances.

The FBI operating manual states that “To establish probable cause, the affiant must demonstrate a basis for knowledge and belief that the facts are true.”

In an affidavit supporting a July 2017 search warrant of Manafort’s home, the ledger was mentioned as one of the reasons the FBI resurrected the criminal casein.

“On August 19, 2016, after public reports regarding connections between Manafort, Ukraine and Russia — including an alleged ‘black ledger’ of off-the-book payments from the Party of Regions to Manafort — Manafort left his post as chairman of the Trump Campaign,” the July 25, 2017, FBI agent’s affidavit stated.

The FBI also cited a specific article about the ledger in arguing probable cause for a search warrant for Manafort’s bank records.

“The April 12, 2017, Associated Press article reported that DMI [Manafort’s company] records showed at least two payments were made to DMI that correspond to payments in the ‘black ledger,’ ” an FBI agent wrote in a footnote to the affidavit.

Solomon said there are “two glaring problems with that assertion.

“First, the agent failed to disclose that both FBI officials and Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who later became Mueller’s deputy, met with those AP reporters one day before the story was published and assisted their reporting.

“An FBI record of the April 11, 2017, meeting declared that the AP reporters ‘were advised that they appeared to have a good understanding of Manafort’s business dealings’ in Ukraine.

“So, essentially, the FBI cited a leak that the government had facilitated and then used it to support the black ledger evidence, even though it had been clearly warned about the document.

“Secondly, the FBI was told the ledger claimed to show cash payments to Manafort when, in fact, agents had been told since 2014 that Manafort received money only by bank wires, mostly routed through the island of Cyprus, memos show.

Law professor Alan Dershowitz said FBI affidavits almost never cite news articles as evidence. “They are supposed to cite the primary evidence and not secondary evidence,” he said.

“It sounds to me like a fraud on the court, possibly a willful and deliberate fraud that should have consequences for both the court and the attorneys’ bar,” Dershowitz added.

Solomon wrote that “the best proof that the FBI knew the black ledger was a sham is that prosecutors never introduced it to jurors in Manafort’s trial.”

Rep. Mark Meadows, a senior Republican on the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, said he is asking the Justice Department inspector general to investigate the FBI and prosecutors’ handling of the Manafort warrants, including any media leaks and evidence that the government knew the black ledger was potentially unreliable or suspect evidence.

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