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FILE PHOTO: Paul Manafort, campaign manager to Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, escapes a mob of reporters asking about the Republican National Convention Committee on Rules in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
By Pavel Polityuk
KIEV (Reuters) - The author of an article that U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller believes Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort ghost-wrote in violation of a gag order said on Saturday he had sought input on the op-ed before publishing to avoid errors.
On Friday, Mueller unveiled evidence against Manafort to convince a judge that he wrote the article to improve his public image. Manafort is facing charges as part of an investigation into accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The op-ed was published on Thursday in the English-language Kyiv Post under the byline of Oleg Voloshyn, a former spokesman for Ukraine's foreign affairs ministry.
In a telephone call with Reuters, Voloshyn said he wrote the article, but before publishing had shown it to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian whom Mueller alluded to in a filing earlier this week as having ties to Russian intelligence.
Voloshyn said he had decided to write the article to correct misrepresentations of Manafort in the media without prejudicing the U.S. trial and had consulted Kilimnik, who is close to Manafort, to make sure the text was accurate.
"I didn't want to write any stupid things in it that would worsen his (Manafort's) already difficult position," Voloshyn said. "I sent the text to Kilimnik and it was Kilimnik's idea to send it to Paul (Manafort) for a look."
"He (Kilimnik) sent it back to me with some comments and suggestions. Whether these were his comments and suggestions or Paul's suggestions is not a question I can answer," he said.
Voloshyn said allegations of Kilimnik's ties to Russia were groundless and that Kilimnik, whom Reuters has not been able to reach, did not want to talk to news media.
Voloshyn said he was prepared to testify that he had no direct contact with Manafort in the run-up to the publication of the article, which praised Manafort's work promoting European Union-Ukraine relations and said he lobbied for pro-Western values, not Russian interests.
"In September or in the summer, when he started having problems, I sent him a letter of support. He did not respond," Voloshyn said.
On Monday, Mueller's team had said in a court filing that they had been assured by Manafort's counsel that they had taken steps to prevent the article from being published.
Voloshyn told Reuters that he was not contacted by Manafort's lawyers in an attempt to stop him from publishing it.
"Who could forbid me?" he said. "What right does Mueller have to forbid me to do something?"
Manafort's attorney has acknowledged that his client helped edit Voloshyn's article but denies he violated the gag order, saying an article published in a Ukrainian newspaper would not substantially prejudice the case in the United States.
The charges against Manafort include conspiracy to launder money and failing to register as a foreign agent working on behalf of former pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's government, who was ousted in 2014.
All parties were ordered by the judge on Nov. 8 not to discuss the case in public or with the media in a way that could substantially prejudice a fair trial.
Earlier this week, Mueller's team discovered the draft op-ed was in the works and ordered Manafort's lawyers to shut it down.
(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Clelia Oziel and Jonathan Oatis)