Source: Mueller investigating Manafort meeting

Special counsel Robert Mueller's team has been investigating a meeting between former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno in Quito in 2017 and has specifically asked if WikiLeaks or its founder, Julian Assange, were discussed in the meeting, a source with personal knowledge of the matter tells CNN.

Posted: Nov 28, 2018 2:59 PM
Updated: Nov 28, 2018 3:16 PM

Donald Trump's behavior isn't doing much to bolster White House assurances that he's got nothing to worry about from Robert Mueller's probe, after a series of potentially ominous turns in the Russia investigation.

The President's recent barrage of tweets and comments and testimony from sources close to him -- coinciding with thickening intrigue around the special counsel -- hint instead at deep concern on Trump's part.

"Heroes will come of this, and it won't be Mueller and his terrible Gang of Angry Democrats," Trump tweeted on Tuesday, blasting the special counsel as a "conflicted prosecutor gone rogue."

Despite this outburst of fury, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders painted a portrait of a President who was serenely awaiting Mueller's findings.

"I don't think the President has any concerns about the report because he knows that there was no wrongdoing by him and that there was no collusion," Sanders told reporters at her first daily briefing in a month.

The explanation for Trump's angst over his predicament seems to lie in a flurry of startling and potentially significant developments and reports swirling around his jailed ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and other associates.

Trump, the most powerful man in the world who crafted a self-flattering image as the ultimate strongman boss, is in a deeply vulnerable spot and appears to feel cornered and in increasing peril.

He has no choice but to watch as Mueller, an adversary whose discrete public profile makes him an elusive target, grinds away, apparently getting ever closer to Trump's inner circle and perhaps even to the President himself.

"The Mueller investigation is what it is. It just goes on and on and on," Trump told The Washington Post Tuesday when asked about his relentless, unseen foe.

Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani offered a hint of the toll being inflicted on Trump behind the scenes when he told CNN's Dana Bash the President had been "upset for weeks" about "the un-American, horrible treatment of Manafort."

Details emerge

While the White House refuses to budge from its denial of collusion between Trump and Russia in 2016, a string of events now coming to light is stretching the notion that this is all one harmless coincidence to the limit of credulity.

In the space of a few days, it emerged that Manafort's cooperation deal collapsed after Mueller accused him of lying on multiple occasions.

The Guardian reported on Tuesday that Manafort met Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is accused of blasting out emails stolen by Russian spies to attack Hillary Clinton, on a number of occasions in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Both Manafort and Wikileaks have issued strenuous denials of the report -- Manafort called it "totally false and deliberately libelous" and Wikileaks was "willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor's head that Manafort never met Assange."

The paper's sourcing was also vague, making it difficult to assess the veracity of the reporting. So for now, joining the dots cannot produce definitive conclusions.

CNN later obtained draft court documents Tuesday with which Mueller plans to show how Trump associate Roger Stone allegedly sought information and emails from Wikileaks using another operative, Jerome Corsi, as a go between.

In another development, CNN contributor Carl Bernstein reported Tuesday that Mueller's team has been investigating a meeting between Manafort and Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno in Quito in 2017 and has specifically asked if WikiLeaks or Assange was discussed in the meeting, according to a source with personal knowledge of the matter.

Such is the secrecy around Mueller's investigation that no one outside knows what he knows. The special counsel has yet to lay out any case against Trump or his close associates on either alleged collusion or obstruction of justice.

If there is such supporting evidence, it is not clear that Mueller would be able to prove malicious intent by Trump. But all of the recent developments suggest that the special counsel has penetrated deeply into the events surrounding the troubled 2016 election.

In his dismissal of a cooperation agreement with Manafort, for instance, Mueller's team said it has evidence to prove the former lobbyist lied "on a variety of subject matters" -- a fact that alone must leave Trump wondering about the extent of his knowledge.

There was immediate speculation that Manafort's apparent attempts to mislead Mueller amounted to an implicit plea for a pardon from the President. The White House said there had been talk of such a step. But adding to speculation that Manafort is angling for a pardon, Giuliani told Bash that the two legal teams had been in contact. This also raised the possibility that Trump has a genuine window into Mueller's progress, another factor that might explain his recent anger.

The New York Times reported that the cooperation between the two legal teams had inflamed tensions between the special counsel and Manafort's lawyers.

Potential impact

Former Watergate special prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste told CNN's Brooke Baldwin on Tuesday that if the report of Manafort-Assange meetings was correct it would be extraordinary.

"What in the world would Mr. Manafort be doing meeting with Julian Assange if not to talk about Assange's role as a cut out for disseminating information the Russians obtained by illegal hacking?" Ben-Veniste said.

It was not clear whether Manafort's alleged lies dealt with the reported meeting with Assange. But given that the fugitive Australian is confined to his hideaway in the embassy, he or his hosts are likely under surveillance, intelligence that Mueller would likely be able to access.

Mueller is not the only potential threat to the President interested in the deepening questions. Democrats, poised to take power in the House, are already gearing up to reinvigorate a congressional investigation on Russia.

"A meeting with Julian Assange would be the smoking gun," said Rep. David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee.

The House Democratic majority could eventually pose a grave threat to Trump's presidency and represents a devastating erosion of the force field of political protection so far offered by the GOP majority on Washington power -- another possible reason for his mood.

In the long term, any sustained dip in Trump's popularity -- his disapproval rating climbed to 60% in Gallup's weekly tracking poll -- could even eventually raise questions about the solidity of his standing among Senate Republicans that has so far always been seen as impenetrable.

Expectations high

The latest drama around Manafort is even more tantalizing given the possibility that the collapse of the cooperation agreement could prompt Mueller to reveal more about his tightly private investigation.

Special counsel prosecutors plan to detail Manafort's alleged lies in a number of areas in a sentencing memo that could be filed with the court in the coming weeks.

Mueller has used indictments and court filings throughout his tenure to embroider a rich picture of Russian intelligence hacking, a social media campaign to disrupt the election and cozy ties between Manafort and pro-Russian political figures in Ukraine.

So expectations will be high ahead of his filing if it is done in public

"Without releasing a report, without another indictment, Mr. Mueller would be in a position to reveal a lot of information that we would all find very interesting about his investigation in open court," said Ben-Veniste.

Such a filing is also now seen in Washington as a potential way around any attempt to disrupt a final report of the Russia investigation by Trump's acting-Attorney General Matt Whitaker.

The new focus on the man picked to succeed the sacked Jeff Sessions may also point to another possible spur for the President's current fury.

Trump has often seemed to know more about the probe than is available, and it's possible that Whitaker, who is now in charge of overseeing Mueller, has read him in on the inside story of the investigation.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 93556

Reported Deaths: 2810
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds6974155
DeSoto541155
Harrison373272
Jackson338867
Madison320886
Rankin319075
Lee260667
Jones242078
Forrest239070
Washington217971
Lafayette208439
Lauderdale1999124
Bolivar179465
Oktibbeha175050
Lamar163134
Neshoba1536103
Panola144027
Sunflower141744
Lowndes139957
Warren138150
Leflore136980
Pontotoc123416
Pike121248
Monroe118865
Scott116425
Copiah116233
Coahoma112327
Holmes109258
Marshall107615
Lincoln106753
Grenada106135
Yazoo103829
Simpson101143
Union97824
Tate95137
Leake93937
Adams91936
Wayne87721
Pearl River86550
Marion84133
Prentiss81117
Covington80522
Alcorn77311
Itawamba76221
Newton75723
Tallahatchie75418
George74913
Winston72419
Tishomingo65837
Chickasaw65524
Tippah64216
Attala64125
Walthall59325
Clay57817
Hancock56121
Jasper55415
Noxubee54315
Clarke53539
Smith52314
Calhoun50612
Tunica47913
Montgomery45520
Claiborne45216
Lawrence42512
Yalobusha41714
Perry40718
Quitman3745
Humphreys37315
Stone35511
Greene34517
Webster33113
Jefferson Davis32511
Carroll31212
Amite31110
Wilkinson30217
Kemper28615
Sharkey26312
Jefferson2429
Benton2191
Franklin1893
Choctaw1795
Issaquena1033
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 131405

Reported Deaths: 2292
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19015337
Mobile13066289
Montgomery8674173
Madison758375
Tuscaloosa7240114
Lee571359
Shelby568450
Baldwin506149
Marshall383543
Etowah335547
Calhoun333839
Morgan319726
Houston270822
Elmore254947
DeKalb235519
St. Clair223435
Walker222680
Talladega206926
Limestone199519
Cullman184517
Dallas174826
Franklin174328
Russell17132
Autauga169024
Lauderdale164633
Colbert160626
Escambia156225
Blount155114
Jackson150611
Chilton148527
Dale133043
Covington130927
Coffee12778
Pike11559
Tallapoosa113683
Chambers113042
Clarke104917
Marion94228
Butler90938
Barbour8357
Winston70912
Marengo69919
Lowndes64827
Pickens63514
Bibb63210
Hale61528
Randolph60812
Bullock58714
Lawrence58520
Monroe5758
Geneva5724
Cherokee56516
Washington54613
Clay5427
Perry5376
Wilcox53111
Conecuh52311
Crenshaw52331
Macon47720
Henry4724
Fayette4219
Sumter41819
Lamar3462
Choctaw34512
Cleburne3236
Greene30015
Coosa1643
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 61°
Columbus
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 61°
Oxford
Scattered Clouds
61° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 61°
Starkville
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 61°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather