Mueller investigating meeting between Manafort and Ecuador's president

Special counsel Robert Mueller's team has been investigating a meeting between former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno in Quito in 2017 and has specifically asked if WikiLeaks or its founder, Julian Assange, were discussed in the meeting, a source with personal knowledge of the matter tells CNN.

Posted: Nov 28, 2018 11:19 AM
Updated: Nov 28, 2018 11:38 AM

Draft court filings obtained by CNN outline significant insights into what special counsel Robert Mueller may know about Roger Stone's efforts to seek documents from WikiLeaks in 2016.

Mueller's office was preparing to tell a federal court that Stone pushed an associate to get documents from WikiLeaks -- information that is now known to be stolen from the Democrats by Russian hackers -- that could help the Trump campaign, according to a draft of a court filing and other documents shared with CNN by Stone associate and conservative author Jerome Corsi.

Corsi said he received the drafts, mostly dated this month, as part of his negotiations with Mueller's team regarding a plea of making a false statement to federal investigators. According to Corsi and the documents he provided, prosecutors offered him a plea deal, which Corsi says he plans to reject because he doesn't believe he knowingly lied.

In one of the draft court filings shared with CNN on Monday, the special counsel's team outlined how Stone, who is only identified as Person 1, allegedly sought the information and emails from WikiLeaks using at least one person, Corsi, as a go-between. Corsi confirmed to CNN that Stone is Person 1.

Mueller spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment on the draft documents. The authenticity of all documents could not be confirmed immediately by CNN, though the draft court filings regarding the possible plea agreement match the format, structure and language of all other plea deal cases opened by the Mueller team in DC federal court.

It is not known how many changes remained to be made to the draft documents. Such information is normally not released until filed in court.

Three alleged lies outlined

In the draft court papers, prosecutors outline how Corsi allegedly lied three times to the FBI and special counsel's office. He told them he rebuffed Stone when Stone asked him to reach out to WikiLeaks; he denied that Stone asked him to involve another person in the effort; and he denied he shared information about what WikiLeaks had.

In the summer of 2016, Stone allegedly asked Corsi to get in touch with WikiLeaks "about materials it possessed relevant to the presidential campaign that had not already been released," according to the draft filing. "Get to [Assange]," Stone wrote on July 25, 2016, three days after Wikileaks dumped thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. According to the documents, Stone directed Corsi to get in touch with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, was blasting publicly the documents stolen in the Russian hack, and "get the pending [Wikileaks] emails."

Corsi then passed that request on to Ted Malloch, a London-based consultant. Malloch said he spoke to the FBI this year and said was asked specifically if he had visited the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He had not, he said. Stone also said he has never met Assange.

Malloch did not respond to a request for comment on this report.

By August 2, 2016, Corsi was emailing Stone to predict that WikiLeaks had more document dumps in the works. Stone has said he spoke with Trump the following day, August 3.

"Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I'm back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging," Corsi wrote, according to the draft document. "Time to let more than [the Clinton Campaign chairman] to be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton]. That appears to be the game hackers are now about. Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke -- neither he nor she well. I expect that much of next dump focus, setting stage for Foundation debacle."

Stone has not been charged publicly, nor have their other contacts or WikiLeaks. But the documents made public Tuesday are the strongest signal yet that Stone could be charged with a crime. Several other contacts of Stone's have testified before a federal grand jury in DC, according to CNN's reporting.

If Stone were to be charged with a crime for seeking the stolen documents, others who discussed with him reaching WikiLeaks could also face legal risk in a criminal conspiracy case or if they attempted to shield information from Congress, the FBI, prosecutors or the grand jury.

"Like every politico and political reporter in America I was curious about what (WikiLeaks) had," Stone said on Tuesday. But he said his interaction with Corsi, as laid out in the draft filing, "certainly does not prove that I had advanced notice that anyone had stolen Podesta's emails or that I knew the source or content of the WikiLeaks disclosures."

Stone confirms emails

Aside from Corsi, the draft documents don't identify the players by name. Stone is referred to as "Person 1" by the prosecutors. CNN determined it was Stone through interviews and correspondence matching the emails described in the filings. CNN determined the "overseas individual" was Malloch based on previously released correspondence between Corsi, Stone and Malloch. Prior government statements as well as CNN's reporting, context clues and correspondence between Stone and Corsi indicate that "Organization 1" in the filings is WikiLeaks.

Stone has confirmed the accuracy of the emails between him and Corsi that are revealed in the draft filings. He has also confirmed that Malloch was the individual in London with whom Corsi spoke.

Twelve Russian military intelligence members were charged by Mueller in July for hacking the DNC. None have appeared in US to enter a plea. At that time, Mueller outlined a portion of communications the alleged hackers had with Stone and Wikileaks under the guise of their hacker identity Guccifer 2.0.

The information in that filing was the last known discussion from the Justice Department of the hackers' contacts with Americans -- and it stopped far short of describing how Americans may have discussed approaching the hackers' spoils behind the scenes.

The filings made public Tuesday make no claim that Stone or other Americans knew the hackers were affiliated with the Russian government.

All of the communications between Stone and Corsi, as described in the draft court filing, would have taken place after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange announced in June 2016 that his organization had materials about Clinton and would be releasing documents before the election.

By March 2017 -- after US intelligence agencies had pinned the blame on Russia for hacking the Democrats and using WikiLeaks to disseminate stolen material -- Corsi had deleted all of his emails prior to October 11, 2016, prosecutors allege in the draft filing.

As part of his proposed plea agreement, Corsi would have admitted to only one criminal charge with two components -- lying to investigators and obstruction of justice before congressional or grand jury proceedings.

Corsi's lawyer, David Gray, in a letter to prosecutors, said the radio host feared losing his securities license if he pleaded guilty to a criminal charge under seal and did not reveal it to regulators. Gray also said that Corsi would not be sentenced for "some time."

In the draft agreement, the special counsel's office does not seek for Corsi to cooperate extensively like it has with other defendants. However, prosecutors had made a deal with him two months earlier that he would speak with Mueller's office and testify before the grand jury -- and not lie during either situation.

So far, Mueller has spoken to dozens of witnesses, including campaign and administration officials, in a similar way to Corsi in September. The special counsel's office has charged four people with lying to investigators. Two, the former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and the Dutch lawyer Alex Van Der Zwaan, were sentenced to prison. Former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates and former national security adviser Michael Flynn have pleaded guilty and continue to cooperate with investigators on multiple ongoing investigations.

Corsi's lawyer also outlined how Corsi had not reviewed the emails the special counsel's office had before he did the September interview in which he allegedly lied. "The issue is that the statements that Dr. Corsi made were, in fact, the best he could recall at the time," Gray, his attorney, wrote on November 21 to special counsel's office prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky. Corsi amended his statements to the prosecutors and provided them with access to his computers and phones, Gray wrote, but prosecutors still sought to charge him with lying.

Gray and another attorney at his law firm have not responded to CNN's requests for comment on Tuesday.

Reference to Trump annoys President's lawyers

Corsi's statement of offense included a reference to Trump that irritated the Trump legal team so much it caused a delay in returning written answers to questions from the Mueller team.

A source briefed on the matter says Trump's legal team learned of the reference in the Corsi documents in the week before Thanksgiving. Read in context, it's clear that the reference doesn't accuse the President of any wrongdoing. But the Trump lawyers thought naming the President was gratuitous because others weren't identified in the documents, and they complained to the Mueller team. The Corsi documents also came on the heels of a Justice Department court filing made in error that for the first time revealed federal criminal charges apparently filed under seal against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The Trump team held off filing the President's response to Mueller for a few days.

The Washington Post first reported the episode.

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