The President of Ecuador spoke with Paul Manafort about his desire to remove Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, a Manafort spokesperson confirmed Monday.
“When Mr. Manafort met with President Moreno of Ecuador to discuss the China Development Fund, the president raised with Mr. Manafort his desire to remove Julian Assange from Ecuador’s embassy,” Jason Maloni, a Manafort spokesman, told CNN in a statement.
“Mr. Manafort listened but made no promises as this was ancillary to the purpose of the meeting,” Maloni’s statement added. “There was no mention of Russia at the meeting.”
The New York Times was first to report that President Lenin Moreno and his aides had expressed their desire to have Assange leave the embassy in at least two meetings with Manafort in exchange for concessions from the US like debt relief, citing three people familiar with the talks. Assange has been holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy, since 2012.
At the meetings, which took place in mid-May 2017 in Ecuador, Manafort reportedly suggested he could help broker a deal that would include the handover of Assange to the United States, the sources tell the Times.
Ultimately, there was no deal made with Ecuador, the Times reports. There is no evidence Manafort was working with President Donald Trump or other administration officials, according to the Times.
Manafort flew to Ecuador primarily to see if he could potentially land a large commission by brokering a deal where China would invest in Ecuador’s power system, the Times reports. Manafort was facing mounting debt and needed to pay off legal bills, according to the Times.
CNN’s Carl Bernstein reported that last week special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has been investigating a meeting between Manafort and Moreno in Quito in 2017 and has asked if WikiLeaks or Assange was discussed in the meeting, according to a source with personal knowledge of the matter.
Mueller’s office is considering bringing more criminal charges against Manafort, after it accused the former Trump campaign chairman of violating his plea deal to cooperate with prosecutors. Manafort pleaded guilty earlier this year to two charges of conspiracy and witness tampering, while publicly admitting he committed several financial and lobbying crimes. He separately was found guilty by a jury in Virginia of eight financial fraud charges related to his Ukrainian lobbying proceeds.
There is no evidence Manafort’s meetings with Moreno were motivated by WikiLeaks’ involvement in aiding the Russian effort to help Trump win the 2016 presidential election, according to the Times.
CNN’s Evan Perez, Marshall Cohen and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.