Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange is threatening legal action over a Guardian story claiming he met former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort three times in the Ecuadorian embassy.
The non-profit website has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the legal action. Manafort has also denied the story, calling it “totally false and deliberately libellous”.
The Guardian article, published yesterday, cites anonymous sources claiming Manafort visited Assange (pictured) in the London embassy, where he has lived for more than six years, in 2013, 2015 and spring 2016 – around the time Manafort joined Trump’s campaign.
Months after the final visit, according to the Guardian, Wikileaks released a stash of Democratic Party emails stolen by Russian spies.
A Guardian News and Media spokesperson told Press Gazette: “This story relied on a number of sources.
“We put these allegations to both Paul Manafort and Julian Assange’s representatives prior to publication. Neither responded to deny the visits taking place.
“We have since updated the story to reflect their denials.”
Wikileaks announced last night that Assange had instructed lawyers to sue the Guardian for libel over the “fabricated” story. It has already raised more than $28,000 through a crowdfunding page.
In a tweet, Wikileaks said: “Remember this day when the Guardian permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper’s reputation. Wikileaks is willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor’s head that Manafort never met Assange.”
US Senator Bob Menendez said that “if true” the revelation of the meetings would raise “serious new questions about Mr Manafort’s relationship with Wikileaks”.
“It is essential that Ecuador’s current government publicly and swiftly confirm whether former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and his administration allowed these meetings to take place,” he said.
Manafort is currently in jail after pleading guilty to conspiring to defraud the US and conspiring to obstruct justice, in relation to his unregistered lobbying work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.
He struck a plea deal for a lighter sentence in exchange for co-operating fully with US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
In a statement issued to US media last night, Manafort joined Wikileaks in threatening legal action over the story.
He said: “This story is totally false and deliberately libellous. I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him. I have never been contacted by anyone connected to Wikileaks, either directly or indirectly.
“I have never reached out to Assange or Wikileaks on any matter. We are considering all legal options against the Guardian who proceeded with this story even after being notified by my representatives that it was false.”
The Guardian and Wikileaks were once close collaborators, with the newspaper working on numerous leaks with the website, including the Afghan War documents and US diplomatic cables leak in 2010.
But the relationship went sour with Wikileaks threatening to sue the Guardian, including twice in 2011 – once for publishing the diplomatic cable documents unredacted, and once for what is said were “libellous” claims in a book published by the newspaper about their collaboration.
Picture: Reuters/Peter Nicholls/Files