Judge orders Manafort jailed after witness-tampering allegations

Judge orders Manafort jailed after witness-tampering allegations

By Gary Gately   
Paul Manafort is searched as he enters the Federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. to learn whether he must await trial in prison or can remain on house arrest following allegations that he tried to obstruct the Russia inquiry, June 15, 2018, (Photo © 2018 Doug Christian)
Paul Manafort, right, is searched as he enters U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Friday morning. (Photo © 2018 Doug Christian/TMN)

WASHINGTON – A federal judge jailed former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort Friday morning after prosecutors alleged he attempted to get two potential witnesses to lie for him as he faces felony charges over lobbying for the pro-Russia Ukraine.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted a request by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team to revoke Manafort’s house arrest on $10 million bond and jail him, as he awaits criminal trials in Virginia in late July and Washington in September.

Jackson said probable cause existed that Manafort, 69, had repeatedly contacted the two potential witnesses to try to influence their testimony in Mueller’s Russia investigation, a felony.

“You have abused the trust placed in you six months ago,” Jackson told Manafort. The judge noted that court-imposed conditions of release spelled out in all capital letters that he must not commit a felony while on home detention.

“The harm in this case is harm to the administration of justice and harm to the integrity of the court’s system,” Jackson said.

Paul Manafort (Twitter photo)

She called the decision to detain Manafort “extraordinarily difficult,” adding: “I have no appetite for this. But in the end, I cannot turn a blind eye.”

Manafort’s attorney, Richard Westerling, asked Jackson to impose less-restrictive conditions than his current $10 million bail and home detention with electronic monitoring. Westerling suggested the judge order that Manafort not contact potential witnesses instead of incarcerating him.

The judge’s decision to jail Manafort came after his arraignment on charges in a superseding indictment last Friday. The indictment charged Manafort and his associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who prosecutors said has ties to Russian intelligence, with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Manafort and Kilimnik, prosecutors alleged, attempted to persuade two potential witnesses contacted by Mueller’s team to tell investigators that lobbying on behalf of the Ukraine occurred in other countries but not in the U.S.

Manafort pleaded not guilty to the charges and has pleaded not guilty to all the felony charges against him. Kilimnik has not yet appeared in court.

Westerling told the judge Manafort did not realize the two colleagues had been contacted by Mueller’s office as potential witnesses.

But prosecutor Greg Andres retorted: “It’s inconceivable that he did not know they were potential witnesses.”

Mueller’s office has detailed what Andres called in court a “a sustained campaign over a five-week period” to try to persuade the two witnesses to falsely tell prosecutors the former Trump campaign chairman had lobbied for the Ukraine only in Europe, not in the U.S.

Manafort has been on home detention since October 2017. From his Alexandria, Va., apartment, prosecutors allege, Manafort communicated with the two witnesses through texts, encrypted messages, cellphone calls and an email account set up to avoid recovery of messages, through a process known as “foldering.” Manafort created the account, shared the password and saved messages only as drafts, never sending them, and others would read the drafts, then delete them, in an attempt to conceal the messages, the prosecutors said.

Manafort, Andres told Jackson, would continue to attempt to contact potential witnesses if the judge released him.

The judge appeared to agree.

“This is not middle school; I can’t take away his cell phone,” Jackson said. “If I tell him not to call 56 witnesses, will he call the 57th?”

Jackson rebuffed prosecutors’ claims in court papers that Mueller brought unfounded charges against Manafort to try to pressure him into providing information against Trump and his allies in the special counsel’s investigation into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

“This is not about politics,” said Jackson, an appointee of former President Barack Obama. “It is not about the conduct of the Office of Special Counsel. It is about the defendant’s alleged conduct.”

Marshalls led Manafort, wearing a blue suit, out of the courtroom without handcuffs. He waved to his wife, Kathleen, but showed little emotion over the prospect of spending as long as three months in jail.

Manafort faces criminal trials in Washington and Virginia based on Mueller’s team’s allegations, including working as an unregistered lobbyist in the U.S. for the pro-Russia government of the Ukraine, laundering more than $30 million derived from the lobbying, obstructing justice and committing tax fraud and bank fraud.

Richard Gates, a former Manafort business partner and Trump campaign deputy chairman, pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy and lying to federal agents. Gates is cooperating with Mueller’s team.

Paul Manafort enters the Federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. to learn whether he must await trial in prison or can remain on house arrest following allegations that he tried to obstruct the Russia inquiry, June 15, 2018, (Photo © 2018 Doug Christian)
Paul Manafort enters the federal courthouse in Washington on Friday to learn whether he can remain free on home detention. (Photo © 2018 Doug Christian/TMN)
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