A week has passed since the Guardian, citing a “well-placed source,” insinuated a direct relationship between Trump’s ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort and Julian Assange, claiming that the two met three times in four years. While both WikiLeaks and Manafort denied the alleged meetings had ever taken place, the New York Times now claims Manafort was happy to talk about throwing his supposed buddy under the bus and having him somehow handed over to the US.
The newspaper, citing “three people familiar with the talks,” reported that Manafort traveled to Ecuador in mid-May 2017 to meet with newly-elected President Lenin Moreno and other senior officials. The agenda of the meeting had nothing to do with Assange initially as Manafort was offering Chinese investment into the country’s power industry and suggested his links to the Trump administration would help smooth things out with Washington.
But soon the discussion spiraled to the world’s most famous fugitive, a major obstacle lying in the way of the US-Ecuador rapprochement. The NYT sources said Manafort touted himself as a person who could solve the long-running problem, telling Ecuadorian government officials that he might be handy in striking a clandestine deal to hand over Assange to the US.
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno previously called the WikiLeaks publisher “more than a nuisance” indicating that he would gladly get rid of his predecessor, Rafael Correa’s legacy. Correa offered Assange political asylum, leading to his long residence in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
The protection stopped the British authorities from arresting him on a bail-skipping charge, a development that Assange believes would lead to his extradition to the US to face charges of espionage. Moreno has reportedly held rounds of talks with the British authorities in an attempt to clinch a deal that would allow Assange to leave the embassy without their interference.
According to the NYT, a possible deal on Assange was discussed by Moreno and Manafort during a second meeting, but the negotiations lead to nowhere after the lobbyist got drawn into the Robert Mueller investigation in the US. The newspaper said there was no indication that Manafort approached anyone in the US administration with the Ecuadorean proposal.
Manafort, who is in solitary confinement in a Virginia jail, has not commented on the new claims, however, his spokesman, Jason Maloni, said that the Assange problem was indeed invoked at the meeting between Manafort and Moreno. He insisted that the idea was floated by Moreno, while Manafort “listened but made no promises as this was ancillary to the purpose of the meeting.”
The new report linking Manafort and WikiLeaks, albeit at distinctively another angle, comes as Manafort faces additional charges from the special counsel in charge of the Russian “collusion” probe. The lobbyist reportedly broke the terms of his plea deal by lying to the FBI and to Mueller himself “on a variety of subject matters.”
Manafort denied the allegations, insisting that he provided the investigators with truthful information.
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