January 19, 2019 / 1:58 AM / a year ago

U.S. asked Ecuadorean officials about alleged Assange-Manafort meeting - source

QUITO (Reuters) - U.S. officials spoke with officials from Ecuador’s British embassy on Friday about an alleged meeting there between President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, an Ecuadorean government source said.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange demonstrate in front of presidential palace regarding his Ecuadorian citizenship, in Quito, Ecuador, October 31, 2018, REUTERS/Daniel Tapia/File Photo

The Guardian newspaper reported the meeting in November, alleging the two met at least three times, including in 2016, just before WikiLeaks released damaging emails about Trump’s rival in the 2016 presidential elections, Hillary Clinton.

Manafort and Assange have both previously denied meeting each other at the embassy.

WikiLeaks, in a statement on Friday entitled the “U.S. interrogation of Ecuadorian diplomats,” accused Ecuador’s government of assisting the United States in prosecuting Assange, who first sought asylum in the embassy in 2012.

The source said the embassy officials, at the request of the U.S. Justice Department, provided testimony in Quito at facilities provided by Ecuadorean authorities.

Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment and the U.S. embassy in Quito did not respond to a request for comment.

Manafort is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to conspiracy against the United States and agreeing to cooperate with U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign.

Part of Mueller’s probe has involved looking into whether Trump associates may have had advance notice before WikiLeaks published emails stolen by Russian hackers from Democratic computer networks to damage Clinton.

WikiLeaks called the Guardian’s story “indisputably fabricated” and said it was being used as a pretext for the United States to prosecute Assange. The Guardian has defended the article and said it “relied on a number of sources.”

A lawyer for Assange in Ecuador, Carlos Poveda, said he had not received any notification of the interviews with the embassy officials.

Assange’s relationship with Ecuador has grown increasingly fraught and President Lenin Moreno has said he does not like his presence in the embassy. “Ecuador’s new regime has done a 180 turn in relation to protecting Mr Assange,” WikiLeaks said in the statement published on Twitter.

Assange initially took asylum at the embassy in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where authorities wanted to question him as part of a sexual assault investigation. That investigation was dropped.

Assange denied the Swedish allegations saying the charge was a ploy that would eventually take him to the United States where prosecutors are preparing to pursue a criminal case against him.

Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Daniel Wallis

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