The Guardian reported that the pair met in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, U.K. “around March 2016,” the same month that Manafort joined the Trump campaign and Russian hackers began a concerted effort to steal emails from the Hillary Clinton campaign.
The newspaper said the meeting wasn’t the first between the pair and that they previously met in 2013 — a year after Assange took refuge there to avoid being extradited to Sweden over sex crime allegations — and 2015.
Manafort said in a statement that the report was “totally false and deliberately libelous” and denied ever being contacted by anyone connected to WikiLeaks.
He said he would consider legal action against the Guardian, which he said “proceeded with this story even after being notified by my representatives that it was false.”
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WikiLeaks announced that it too would look to sue the Guardian and launched a GoFundMe campaign to fund the legal action.
According to WikiLeaks, Ecuadorean embassy’s visitor logs show that Manafort never visited Assange there. The whistle-blowing website accused the Guardian and journalist Luke Harding of fabricating previous news reports about Assange.
However, the Guardian reported that Manafort’s visit was deliberately not entered into the embassy’s log book. It cited a source saying Manafort’s visit lasted 40 minutes.
The Guardian didn’t identify the sources for its reporting.
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If confirmed, the report suggests a direct connection between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which released tens of thousands of emails stolen by Russian spies during the 2016 election.
The campaign seized on the emails to undermine Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton.
— With files from the Associated Press