The U.S. special counsel's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election is focusing on a meeting by Donald Trump's then-campaign chairman and a business associate who prosecutors say has ties to Russian intelligence.
A court transcript unsealed on February 7 in Paul Manafort's criminal case says an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik goes to the "larger view of what we think is going on" and what "we think the motive here is."
"This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what Special Counsel [Robert Mueller's] Office is investigating," Andrew Weissmann, one of the prosecutors on Mueller's team, told the judge, according to a transcript of the hearing.
Much of the transcript was redacted, including portions relating to Kilimnik.
In previous court documents, it was revealed that one of the topics discussed by Manafort and Kilimnik was a possible “Ukrainian peace plan.”
The peace plan refers to the conflict that erupted in Ukraine in 2014, after President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country amid mass protests. The United States and Western allies hit Russia with sanctions after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, and Moscow had sought to ease the punitive measures.
According to court filings, the "peace plan" was reportedly aimed at lifting the U.S. sanctions on Russia.
Manafort was convicted in federal court in Virginia in August of bank fraud and tax evasion connected to his work in Ukraine. He later pleaded guilty in a separate case to two counts of conspiracy.
Manafort has been in imprisoned since June, when a federal judge said he violated his bail by reaching out to potential witnesses in his case. According to prosecutors, he and Kilimnik contacted potential witnesses in Mueller’s investigation, trying to tell them what to say if they were questioned — a federal crime.
Mueller is investigating whether there was collusion between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, which U.S. intelligence agencies charge mounted an influence operation to sway the vote to Trump over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Kilimnik, who was indicted last year on charges of witness tampering in Manafort's case, has denied having ties to Russian spy agencies.
Trump denies he colluded with Russian agents, and Moscow denies interfering in the election to help Trump.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and CNN