Trump’s former campaign chief secretly met with Julian Assange
By Meredith Mclaughlin
Paul Manafort, ex-Trump campaign chairman and current convicted felon, has recently been accused of meeting with Wikileaks leader, Julian Assange in March of 2016. The Guardian claims the two met in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and though there is no information in regards to what they talked about, the timing of this alleged meeting occurred months before a major leak by Assange’s team.
In July of 2016, Wikileaks published a series of emails from upper level Democratic National Committee staff members. Some of the most important information revealed by this leak was the DNC’s attempts to undermine the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. One of the ideas thrown around by a DNC staffer involved getting someone to ask if Sanders was an atheist in an attempt to discredit his religious background. The leaks also revealed how former head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had emailed MSNBC to get them to apologize for claiming that she did not support the Sanders campaign. More generally, the leaks gave insight to the methods that the DNC used to raise exorbitant amounts of money from financial donors; things like getting seats close to President Obama were often prerequisites for getting donations.
The grim reality that these emails revealed damaged faith in the Democratic party on both sides: Sanders supporters felt betrayed and no longer believed that the DNC and Hillary Clinton were honest, and Republicans felt that their beliefs about the DNC were confirmed. Clearly, these leaks were highly beneficial to the Trump campaign. However, they are call to question whether Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections on Trump’s behalf were co-orchestrated by the Trump Campaign. The “Steele Dossier” (the results of a private investigation conducted by Christopher Steele, British Intelligence’s former head of the Russian desk) indicate that Russia’s efforts to sow dissent among the American public was encouraged by the Trump campaign. It also points to Manafort as being a major player in these alleged dealings.
Paul Manafort is considered by the dossier to be the middleman between Trump and the Kremlin. Within this context it seems likely that Manafort would be the one to organize the Wikileaks for Trump’s benefit. This covert meeting between Assange and Manafort would have not only been a first step towards sabotaging the DNC, but it would have benefitted Assange as well. The Guardian points out that with a Trump presidency aided by Wikileaks, there is a chance that Assange would no longer be sought out by the US government to pay for previously leaking secret US documents pertaining to the Iraq war. At the very least, there is a chance that he might get a reduced sentence. Vox points out that Assange and Wikileaks have always taken a very “anti-US” stance, arguing that the US acts as an imperial power that interferes heavily in other countries’ affairs. Assange has held that Hillary Clinton is someone who has no problem with using the US military abroad, making her more dangerous than Trump. However, it is important to note that the hacker who gave the information to Wikileaks to release, Guccifer 2.0 is most likely a Russian agent (he once forgot to hide his IP address, which indicated that he was a Russian GRU agent). While both Russia and Assange deny any collaboration, it is more than likely that the two took advantage of each other’s common interests to damage the DNC. Assange similarly denounces the Guardian’s article about his alleged meeting with Manafort, and is planning on suing the publication.
Unlike Assange, Manafort was unable to call for asylum at an embassy before getting indicted for conspiracy against the United States, laundering money, acting as an unregistered agent for a foreign principle (Manafort lobbied for pro-Russian-Ukrainian Party), and for making false statements, among other charges. It’s important to note, however, that “conspiracy against the United States” indicates that Manafort planned to commit a crime against the United States, in this case massive money laundering. But this doesn’t mean there is no evidence that Manafort enabled collusion; during Trump’s campaign, Manafort had met with Russian lobbyists who promised to get information on Hillary Clinton. Manafort had entered a plea deal with Special counsel Robert Muller in September after pleading guilty to one charge of conspiracy. It was understood that Manafort would assist Muller in his investigation in order to avoid further money laundering trials. Currently, however, Muller is considering hitting Manafort with even more charges, as his group believe that Manafort has consistently been lying to them throughout the investigation. Investigators say that more details on December 7.
Considering Manafort’s criminal history and international connections, on the surface it seems very likely that he and Assange did meet to discuss collusion. However, there is some worry amongst other news sources that this story might be a plant to further discredit the media. Politico has hypothesized that if some of the Guardian’s sources lied to them, it could prep the public to distrust news sources critical of Trump more and more.