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Manafort allegations throw new uncertainty into Russia probe

WASHINGTON — The breakdown of a plea deal with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an explosive British news report about alleged contacts he may have had with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange threw a new element of uncertainty into the Trump-Russia investigation on Tuesday.

A day after prosecutors accused Manafort of repeatedly lying to them, trashing his agreement to tell all in return for a lighter sentence, he adamantly denied a report in the Guardian that he had met secretly with Assange in March 2016. That's the same month Manafort joined the Trump campaign and Russian hackers began an effort to penetrate the email accounts of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

The developments thrust Manafort back into the investigation spotlight, raising new questions about what he knows and what prosecutors say he might be attempting to conceal as they probe Russian election interference and any possible coordination with Trump associates in the campaign that sent the celebrity businessman to the White House.

All the while, Manafort's lawyers have been briefing President Donald Trump's attorneys on what their client has told investigators, a highly unusual arrangement that could give Trump ammunition in his feud against Mueller.

"They share with me the things that pertain to our part of the case," Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told The Associated Press.

Giuliani also said the president, who has stepped up his attacks on Mueller in recent days, has been enraged by the treatment of Manafort.

Other figures entangled in the investigation, including Trump himself, have been scrambling to escalate attacks and allegations against prosecutors who have spent weeks working quietly behind the scenes.

Besides denying he'd ever met Assange, Manafort, who is currently in jail, said he'd told special counsel Robert Mueller's prosecutors the truth in weeks of questioning. And WikiLeaks said Manafort had never met with Assange, offering to bet London's Guardian newspaper "a million dollars and its editor's head."

Assange, whose organization published thousands of emails stolen from Clinton's campaign in 2016, is in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London under a claim of asylum.

It is unclear what prosecutors contend Manafort lied about, though they're expected to make a public filing ahead of sentencing that could offer answers.

Dissolution of the plea deal could be a devastating outcome for a defendant who suddenly admitted guilt last September after months of maintaining his innocence and who bet on his cooperation getting him a shorter sentence. But it's also a potentially major setback for investigators, given that Manafort steered the campaign during a vital stretch of 2016, including a time when prosecutors say Russian intelligence was working to sway the election in Trump's favor.

The prosecutors' terse three-page filing underscored their exasperation not only at Manafort's alleged deception but also at the loss of an important witness present for key moments under investigation, including a Trump Tower meeting at which Trump's oldest son expected to receive "dirt" about Democrat Hillary Clinton from a Kremlin-connected lawyer.

"The fact is, they wanted his cooperation. They wanted him to truthfully reveal what he knew, so they're not getting what they wanted," said Washington defense lawyer Peter Zeidenberg. "This isn't like a good development where they're clapping their hands and saying, 'Now we get to crush this guy.'"

Manafort's motivation, if indeed he lied to Mueller's team, also was unclear.

Giuliani said in a telephone interview that Trump and his lawyers agree a presidential pardon should not be considered "now."

However, he added, "The president could consider it at an appropriate time, as Manafort has the same rights as any American."

Giuliani also accused the special counsel's team — in particular Andrew Weissmann, the prosecutor overseeing the Manafort investigation — of mistreating Manafort, including keeping him in solitary confinement, in hopes of getting him to give false testimony against the president.

"Why are they so intent to get him (Manafort) to say something he doesn't know?" Giuliani said. "They have put him in solitary confinement, they have called him back into the office a dozen times. He only gets an hour outside of solitary confinement on a good day. Now they are giving him a script on how to deliver himself from that."

Giuliani said Trump "thinks it is outrageous and un-American and sounds like something that would happen under an oppressive dictatorship."

The Monday night revelation of the Mueller filing on Manafort came at a delicate time for investigators, who have gone months without any new charges and continue to probe possible links between Trump associates and WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy website that released tens of thousands of Democratic emails stolen by Russian spies during the 2016 campaign.

Trump he tweeted Tuesday that Mueller was doing "TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal Justice system" and called the investigation "a total disgrace." 

Manafort, for his part, had been quiet in public since pleading guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice and conspiracy against the United States. 

Business popping for Wayne, Neb., entrepreneurs

WAYNE, Neb. -- Some entrepreneurs spend years looking for the perfect idea for a new business.

Then there are folks like Adam and Amy Manoucheri, who hit upon a great idea almost by accident.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Employees Joe Walters and Margaret Brugger help customer Lauryn Braun at AquaPop in Wayne, Nebraska. At left is customer Tanner Schopke. AquaPop pops and flavors all the popcorn in the shop and sells retro candy and craft soda. It also has retro pinball machines and arcade video games.

To use a terrible pun, things are really popping at AquaPop, where the Manoucheris sell flavored popcorn, retro candy and craft sodas. Classic arcade video games, pinball machines and a Super Shot basketball game fill the front room of the business at 200 Main St.

When they bought their first popper, the Manoucheris didn't plan to sell popcorn.

Amy, a photographer who also works at Farm Bureau Financial Services in nearby Wakefield, had decided to use the promise of popcorn to convince children to cooperate while having their pictures taken in her studio. Amy soon was trying recipes for kettle corn and cheese-flavored varieties.

"She added flavors just for fun, and it kind of snowballed," Adam Manoucheri said.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Joe Walters packages cheddar cheese popcorn while Margaret Brugger helps customer Lauryn Braun, of Wayne, Nebraska, at AquaPop, a Wayne flavored popcorn and candy shop.

Couples getting their engagement pictures taken would sample the popcorn and ask Amy to pop some for their wedding reception. Initially, it was something she did just for friends, but wedding guests liked it. Word of mouth spread and she began getting more requests.

It made the Manoucheris think. Amy's studio and storefront took up half of their Main Street building, but the other side wasn't being used for much.

"We had enough interest and thought maybe we should use this side to try the popcorn thing," Adam said.

They invested in equipment that would enable them to make caramel corn and other coated flavors and renovated the business space, opening during the annual Wayne Chicken Show celebration in July 2017.

Adam said they had good traffic inside the business that first weekend.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Adam Manoucheri talks in the arcade room at AquaPop in Wayne, Nebraska. He and his wife, Amy, opened their flavored popcorn and candy shop in July 2017 after they received numerous requests for the flavored popcorn they made for friends.

"In the weeks after that is when we noticed it taking off a little bit," he said.

A little bit grew into a lot. As the holiday season approached, more customers entered the store, buying bags of popcorn as gifts.

"That fall, we realized it was starting to pick up and become a monster -- a good one. We really didn't expect it," said Adam, who's also a pharmacist who works in O'Neill, Nebraska.

During the holidays, they were popping popcorn until 2 a.m. every day to keep up with the demand. Friends and family were enlisted to help.

Once the holidays passed, the Manoucheris had time to regroup as sales dropped to a more manageable level. They pop and flavor 12 50-pound cases of Jolly Time popcorn every two weeks, but now have one full-time and one part-time employee to help with popping, wait on customers, keep the shelves stocked and fill specialized orders from customers.

The secret to success? Well, Adam said, there aren't many people who don't like popcorn. The Manoucheris have developed more than 100 flavors and they continue to experiment with new recipes, so there's something for everyone here. They have 12 varieties always in stock -- including top sellers blonde caramel, jalapeno cheddar and dill pickle -- and rotate in seasonal flavors, weekly cheddar varieties and other favorites.

"You can't just have three types of popcorn and expect people to keep coming back," Adam said.

The candy counter also brings back memories for many customers. Where else can you get 1960s, '70s and '80s favorites such as candy cigarettes, Necco wafers, Chick-O-Stick and Marathon candy bars (now called Curly Wurly because they're made in the United Kingdom by Cadbury)? Adam said when he and Amy discussed opening their store, they wanted the classic candies.

"I have a lot of nostalgia for places like that," Adam said.

He's also nostalgic for pinball and video games, which explains the front of the store, where the old pinball machines and arcade games, including a tabletop console that has classic video games such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong on it, can be found. The games have been a hit with customers of all ages, Adam said.

AquaPop is gearing up for another holiday season, after which Adam and Amy will launch their website,, and begin taking online orders. They're not sure exactly what to expect, kind of like when they opened the store.

Their growth may have come as somewhat of a surprise and it's been a lot of work, but they think they got into the right business. Adam said they can't help but be happy when selling something that so many customers enjoy.

"I think it's just kind of a fun deal," he said.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Dordt's Ema Altena passes the ball during warm-up before the NAIA Women's Volleyball National Championship against Reinhardt Tuesday at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City.

GALLAGHER: 'Sister act' stars for two teams at NAIA tourney

SIOUX CITY -- Ana Lambros had a hug for her older -- and bigger sister -- shortly before noon on Tuesday as Alex Lambros headed to the Long Lines Family Center for a pregame workout for her Saint Xavier Cougars volleyball team.

Ana Lambros wished her luck and then sat down for a rest. She'd already opened her national tournament with the Trinity Christian College Trolls.

Sisters, one year apart, are playing on different teams in the 2018 edition of the national tournament. Alex Lambros, a senior at St. Xavier, had 301 kills coming into the action in Sioux City. Ana Lambros, a junior at Trinity Christian, had 277 kills entering play here.

The two institutions, located 15 minutes from one another, are members of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference.

Better yet? The two schools played one another in volleyball three times this year and three times last year.

Older sister has a four-matches-to-two advantage over younger sister. St. Xavier has gone 2-1 each year against Trinity.

"Ana had 16 kills in the match we lost to them (Trinity) this year," Alex said. "She just killed us!"

"Well, Alex came back and had 14 kills in the match they won against us," Ana said. "And they won the conference tournament."

Ana laughed, glanced at her sister and added, "I'm kinda salty about it."

Alex giggled and the two leaned toward one another for a shared laugh as opening-round action played out on the floor below.

The daughters of Jennifer Lambros and Eugene Randle III said they have their mother to thank for this volleyball passion. The sisters attended a private school during their middle school years, an institution that lacked funding for a coach to direct the volleyball team. That's when Jennifer Lambros, a former volleyball player, stepped up and volunteered to lead the program.

Jennifer Lambros made the trip to Sioux City this week to watch her daughters play, accompanied by one of the girls' grandmothers and an uncle. Their father, a trucker, had to stay home due to work commitments.

The Lambros sisters, who've grown to become best friends, basically, see one another once per week, if not every other week.

"I'm so excited for Ana's team to be here because she's literally my best friend," said Alex, who appeared with St. Xavier in the 2017 edition of the national tournament.

Alex, a business marketing and business management double-major, also competes in long jump and triple jump for the Cougars' track program. The 6-foot, 2-inch middle blocker intends to start on her graduate degree next year while playing volleyball overseas.

That's a fact that causes some consternation for Ana. "She's leaving me," she said with a sad face. "I'm not fond of her going away."

Ana, a business management major who is 15 months younger than her sister, stands at 5-feet, 8-inches and plays outside hitter. When asked if she competes in another sport, she shook her head and said, "I played basketball, but was always too aggressive and kept fouling out."

That aggressiveness occasionally showed in sibling spats, like the time Ana pushed Alex into a dresser at home and broke a drawer.

The story elicited laughter as Alex checked her phone and began to gather her gear for the warm-up session with her team.

The fights ceased long ago for this "Sister act," a pair that pulls hard for each other at all times, especially this week at the national meet.

"If Ana looks upset on the court, I start crying," Alex said.

And with that, the younger sister offered a hug to her older sister, wishing her good luck as another national tourney began.