Just when you thought the Steele dossier was the only piece of "garbage" intel the FBI relied on in its efforts against the Trump campaign, The Hill's John Solomon reveals that Ukrainian officials thought Paul Manafort's "black cash ledger" was likely a fake which should not be relied on.
The ledger, which was reported in 2016 and resulted in Manafort's resignation from the Trump campaign, purported to show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Manafort from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's political party between 2007 and 2012.
The FBI relied on this ledger to obtain search warrant affidavits "months after the feds were warned repeatedly that the document couldn't be trusted and was likely a fake," according to Solomon, who cites documents and over a dozen interviews.
For example, Ukraine’s top anticorruption prosecutor, Nazar Kholodnytsky, told me he warned the U.S. State Department’s law enforcement liaison and multiple FBI agents in late summer 2016 that Ukrainian authorities who recovered the ledger believed it likely was a fraud. -The Hill
"It was not to be considered a document of Manafort. It was not authenticated. And at that time it should not be used in any way to bring accusations against anybody," said Kholodnytsky, who says he told FBI agents the same thing.
Manafort's Ukranian business partner, Konstantin Kilimnik - a longtime State Department informant - told the US government that the ledger was probably a fake shortly after an August 2016 article about it appeared in the New York Times.
Kilimnik said in an August 2016 email to a senior US official that Manafort "could not have possibly taken large amounts of cash across three borders. It was always a different arrangement — payments were in wire transfers to his companies, which is not a violation," adding "I have some questions about this black cash stuff, because those published records do not make sense. The timeframe doesn’t match anything related to payments made to Manafort. … It does not match my records. All fees Manafort got were wires, not cash."
What's more, Mueller's team and the FBI had copies of Kilimnik's warning according to the report.
Solomon points out that the FBI may have violated its own rules by knowingly submitting false or suspect evidence in a federal court proceeding. According to the FBI operating manual, "To establish probable cause, the affiant must demonstrate a basis for knowledge and belief that the facts are true."
While neither Mueller nor the FBI cited the actual ledger, they cited media reports about it, and relied on those stories as sources.
For example, agents mentioned the ledger in an affidavit supporting a July 2017 search warrant for Manafort’s house, citing it as one of the reasons the FBI resurrected the criminal case against Manafort.
“On August 19, 2016, after public reports regarding connections between Manafort, Ukraine and Russia — including an alleged ‘black ledger’ of off-the-book payments from the Party of Regions to Manafort — Manafort left his post as chairman of the Trump Campaign,” the July 25, 2017, FBI agent’s affidavit stated.
Three months later, the FBI went further in arguing probable cause for a search warrant for Manafort’s bank records, citing a specific article about the ledger as evidence Manafort was paid to perform U.S. lobbying work for the Ukrainians.
“The April 12, 2017, Associated Press article reported that DMI [Manafort’s company] records showed at least two payments were made to DMI that correspond to payments in the 'black ledger,' ” an FBI agent wrote in a footnote to the affidavit. -The Hill
According to liberal law professor, Alan Dershowitz, citing news articles is almost never done. "They are supposed to cite the primary evidence and not secondary evidence," he said, adding "It sounds to me like a fraud on the court, possibly a willful and deliberate fraud that should have consequences for both the court and the attorneys’ bar."
What's more, Solomon reports that both the FBI agent cited in the the AP article failed to disclose to FBI officials and DOJ prosecutor Andrew Weissman - later Mueller's 'legal pit bull' - that he met with the AP reporters the day before the story was published, and that he assisted with the story.
According to FBI records of the April 11, 2017 meeting, the AP reporters "were advised that they appeared to have a good understanding of Manafort’s business dealings" in Ukraine.
So, essentially, the FBI cited a leak that the government had facilitated and then used it to support the black ledger evidence, even though it had been clearly warned about the document.
Secondly, the FBI was told the ledger claimed to show cash payments to Manafort when, in fact, agents had been told since 2014 that Manafort received money only by bank wires, mostly routed through the island of Cyprus, memos show.
During the 2014 investigation, Manafort and his partner Richard Gates voluntarily identified for FBI agents tens of millions of dollars they received from Ukrainian and Russian sources and the shell companies and banks that wired the money. “Gates stated that the amounts they received would match the amounts they invoiced for services. Gates added they were always paid late, and in tranches,” FBI memos I obtained show. -The Hill
The best evidence that the FBI knew the black ledger was a sham? They never presented it in Manafort's trial.
On Wednesday night, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) told Solomon that he is asking the DOJ's Inspector General to investigate the Manafort warrants, including media leaks and whether evidence exists that the government knew the black ledger was unreliable evidence.
Manafort was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison by two different judges on eight charges of tax and bank fraud, and admitted to ten more charges related to work in Ukraine.