No narrative is more at the heart of the Democrats’ and media’s Trump–Russia collusion charges than reports that Paul Manafort regularly communicated with Moscow during the 2016 campaign.
Now, that narrative has all but collapsed, according to an examination of the year-old official public record.
Christopher Steele’s Democratic Party-financed dossier said Mr. Manafort worked with Russia to coordinate the hacking of Democratic Party computers.
In addition, a number of media reports last year claimed that Mr. Manafort, Mr. Trump’s erstwhile campaign manager, sought Russia’s help to bolster his candidate. U.S. surveillance captured the collusion in copious amounts of phone records, the stories said.
CNN declared in September: “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, which is leading the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the election, has been provided details of these communications.”
But that and similar reports seemed to be dashed by Kevin Downing, Mr. Manafort’s attorney. He filed a brief in U.S. District Court subject to an accuracy review by a federal judge. In a cut-and-dried manner, he said Mr. Mueller has no evidence that Mr. Manafort communicated with Russian officials.
Mr. Downing is defending Mr. Manafort against federal charges that he laundered money paid by Ukrainian politicians and failed to pay income taxes.
In his filing, Mr. Downing said he specifically asked the Mueller team for any such surveillance evidence during mandatory evidence discovery. Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors answered that they had none. Prosecutors risk having charges dismissed if they fail to comply with discovery rules.
“The special counsel has not produced any materials to the defense — no tapes, notes, transcripts or any other material evidencing surveillance or intercepts of communications between Mr. Manafort and Russian intelligence officials, Russian government officials [or any other foreign officials],” Mr. Downing’s filing said. “The Office of Special Counsel has advised that there are no materials responsive to the request.”
Mr. Downing called the CNN report and others an “elaborate hoax.”
The CNN report said: “Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.”
In August 2017, the cable news channel said: “CNN has learned that investigators became more suspicious when they turned up intercepted communications that U.S. intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, who served as campaign chairman for three months, to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects, the U.S. officials say. The suspected operatives relayed what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.”
Again, Mr. Mueller, according to Mr. Downing, has asserted to him that prosecutors have no such material.
The New York Times has reported repeatedly that the government owns intercepts of Mr. Manafort and other Trump aides talking to Russians.