Aaron Blake: 'Lies on Russia starting to pile up... which begs question - why?'
We don't know whether special counsel Robert Mueller has found evidence of collusion or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. But for the fourth time, he has proven a Trump aide lied about contacts with Russians.
A judge on Wednesday voided former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort's co-operation deal with the government, agreeing with Mueller's team that he lied about three matters. In another two matters in which Mueller's team accused Manafort of lying, the judge failed to find "a preponderance of evidence".
Importantly, included in the three instances in which Judge Amy Berman Jackson found Manafort did make false statements, one involved his business associate in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik.
Kilimnik is an increasingly important figure in the Russia probe. An August 2, 2016, meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik goes to the "heart" of Mueller's probe. Previous court filings indicate Manafort discussed a pro-Russia "peace deal" for Ukraine. Importantly, Mueller's team has assessed that Kilimnik had ties to Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign. It also says Kilimnik, who was born in the Soviet Ukraine, is a Russian citizen.
That translates to the court finding Manafort lied about a contact with a Russian, which wasn't among the crimes Manafort had previously been convicted of. And that means the courts have found another example of a Trump aide lying about contacts with Russians.
Which makes it the fourth. Previously, former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with the Russia ambassador during the transition between the 2016 campaign and inauguration. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying about contact with the Kremlin during his efforts during the 2016 campaign to secure a Trump Tower in Russia.
To be clear, not all of these lies are created equal. Flynn's lie came after the campaign, suggesting less of a tie to potential campaign collusion. And like Cohen's, it was part of a plea deal with Mueller. Manafort's lie was determined by a judge based upon a preponderance of evidence, rather than via a jury trial.
But earlier this week, a poll showed Americans believed by a margin of 45pc to 43pc that Mueller hadn't proven lies about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians. He has now effectively proven lies by two Trump campaign surrogates and the man who headed Trump's campaign.
And Mueller has also now snagged a lie from the man who appears to be an increasingly central figure in the collusion probe.
The question has long been why these Trump aides would lie about such contacts, and that intrigue only grew this week. (© Washington Post)