Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort suggested on Tuesday in a statement obtained by Fox News that he might bring legal action against The Guardian, after the newspaper published what he called a "totally false and deliberately libelous" report claiming that he met with Wikileaks head Julian Assange the same month he joined the Trump team.
Shortly afterwards, Wikileaks posted on Twitter that "Assange has instructed his lawyers to sue the Guardian for libel over fabricated Manafort story and launched a legal fund to boost the action."
Manafort, who was convicted on unrelated tax and banking-fraud charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year, unequivocally denied any connection to the secretive organization.
“This story is totally false and deliberately libelous," Manafort said in the statement. "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.”
"We are considering all legal options against the Guardian."
WikiLeaks rocked the 2016 presidential election by posting hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign, including several that revealed the DNC's apparent high-level support for Clinton over her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders. Other embarrassing emails included one from Podesta's account that referred to "Needy Latinos," and a complaint from an adviser that described Chelsea Clinton as a "spoiled brat kid."
But Wikileaks on Monday firmly denied any connection to Manafort, and offered something of a challenge to the Guardian.
"@WikiLeaks is willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor's head that Manafort never met Assange," the group tweeted on Tuesday, prior to Manafort's statement.
However, the Guardian report instantly fueled speculation about whether Mueller's probe had such information on Manafort -- a day after Mueller's prosecutors alleged Manafort was lying to investigators in breach of his plea deal on "a variety of subject matters."
The Guardian report cited "sources" saying Manafort saw Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London "in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016," with the latter meeting reportedly taking place "around March 2016." The Democratic emails were released months later.
The Guardian report did not specify when in March 2016 Manafort allegedly met with Assange. Manafort joined the Trump campaign as convention manager on March 29, 2016, and later became campaign chairman.
A source close to Manafort and his attorney Kevin Downing told Fox News the report is “totally false.”
“I don’t believe this is accurate,” another representative for Manafort told Fox News on Tuesday.
Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, declined to discuss the report during Tuesday’s press briefing, though she reiterated the president was not involved in any “wrongdoing” or “collusion.”
“For things that have to do with Mr. Manafort, I refer you to his attorneys to address that,” Sanders said.
Manafort, who was convicted on multiple counts of financial fraud over the summer in connection with work he completed in Ukraine as a political consultant, has been in the headlines this week after Mueller claimed the former campaign chairman breached his plea deal. The surprise claim arrived as Mueller's team has grappled with a string of complications involving investigation targets in the probe into Russian meddling and potential collusion with Trump campaign associates during the 2016 presidential election.
With regard to WikiLeaks, Mueller is also said to be eyeing GOP political operative Roger Stone, who said the special counsel has been investigating whether he had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks releasing hacked emails of Democrats during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, conservative author Jerome Corsi revealed Monday he plans to reject a potential deal with Mueller to plead guilty to perjury.
Fox News' John Roberts and Brooke Singman contributed to this report.