Less than 24 hours after Trump called the Russia probe a 'hoax,' his own DOJ made clear just how real it is.
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is suspected of serving as a "back channel" between the presidential campaign and Russians seeking to interfere in the 2016 election, a lawyer for the Department of Justice revealed Thursday.
The revelation by U.S. prosecutors came during a hearing on whether special counsel Robert Mueller was within the scope of his mandate when he made the decision to indict Manafort on charges of money laundering and acting as an unregistered foreign agent.
Manafort’s lawyers are trying to get the charges dismissed, arguing that they fall outside of Mueller’s mandate to investigate "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation" of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
But Manafort's quest to have the charges against him dropped ended up backfiring in a big way.
In the process of defending Mueller's investigation, a lawyer for Trump's DOJ revealed that part of the probe into Manafort is focused specifically on whether he acted as a "back channel" to Russia, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.
"He had long-standing ties to Russia-backed politicians," DOJ lawyer Michael Dreeben told U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson. "Did they provide back channels to Russia? Investigators will naturally look at those things."
Mueller's team has previously cited Manafort's business ties to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, saying that an investigation of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia would "naturally cover ties that a former Trump campaign manager had to Russian-associated political operatives, Russian-backed politicians, and Russian oligarchs."
But until now, federal prosecutors hadn't explicitly stated that they suspect Manafort of serving as a back channel for collusion with the Russian government.
Manafort is one of four Trump campaign advisers who have been indicted or pleaded guilty in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference and potential coordination with the Trump campaign.
He was first indicted in October on charges of conspiracy, money laundering, false statements, and failure to disclose foreign assets in relation to his work for pro-Putin Ukrainian politicians. In February, Mueller filed a new case against him, hitting him with charges for tax, financial, and bank fraud.
Meanwhile, Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign aide George Papadopoulos both pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about their contacts with Russian officials, and former campaign aide Rick Gates pleaded guilty to one charge of making false statements to the FBI and one charge of conspiracy against the United States.
All three struck plea deals with Mueller's team, agreeing to cooperate and provide information to investigators.
In total, Mueller's investigation has resulted in over 100 charges against 19 people and three companies.
On Wednesday, Trump once again called the Russia probe a "hoax" and repeated his frequent cry of "no collusion." Less than 24 hours later, Trump's own DOJ shot down those claims, confirming that the investigation is very, very real — and the issue of collusion is smack in the middle of it.