U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson agreed with prosecutors on witness tampering
Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, will be jailed after being accused of witness tampering, a federal judge ruled after a hearing Friday.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III said Manafort, who was first indicted last October and has been under house arrest since then, violated the terms of his bail by reaching out to potential witnesses and providing them with false information.
Those allegations led to a new indictment, released last week, accusing Manafort of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort business partner who Mueller alleges has ties to Russian intelligence, was also indicted on the same charges.
Manafort, who has denied all allegations against him, pleaded not guilty to the new charges in Friday’s hearing.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson agreed with prosecutors that the outreach constituted witness tampering, and ordered Manafort sent to jail. He’s been primarily confined to his home in Virginia since his indictment.
Defense lawyers told Jackson that even if the contacts were improper, which they denied, she could limit the problem with steps short of jail, such as a no-contact order barring Manafort from contacting potential witnesses.
“This isn’t middle school. I can’t take his cellphone,” Jackson responded, adding that she doubted she could draft a clear enough order to ensure against any possible violations.
“I’m concerned that you seem to treat the proceedings as another marketing effort,” she told the defense.
She said she was conflicted over the decision and that ultimately the ruling came down to whether Manafort was a flight risk or a harm to the community. Ultimately, she said, Manafort’s behavior indicated he was “a harm to the administration of justice and the integrity of the court system.”
It was not immediately clear how long Manafort might be in custody or when he would surrender. He was already facing nearly two dozen charges, mostly financial crimes, including tax evasion and bank fraud, and he’s awaiting separate trials in Virginia and Washington.
The trial in Virginia is set to take place first, in mid-summer. The trial in Jackson’s courtroom is slated for the fall. It’s possible that Manafort could be kept in jail until then.
The longtime Republican lobbyist and political strategist has also been charged with failing to disclose his lobbying activities on behalf of Ukraine, a violation of the law that requires agents of foreign governments to register.
Shortly before Friday’s hearing began, President Donald Trump continued his effort to distance himself from his former campaign chief.
“Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time,” he said, speaking to reporters at the White House.
Prosecutors said Manafort and Kilimnik started reaching out to two former colleagues in February to tell them the lobbying didn’t involve work in the United States, a key factor in whether their work for Ukraine’s former Russia-aligned government violated federal law.
Manafort’s legal team denied in a court filing last week that he tried to tamper with any witnesses.
“Mr. Manafort asked no one to provide a false affidavit or false testimony at trial, or perjure themselves, and he has not given _ nor offered to give _ any potential witness anything in exchange for false testimony,” they wrote.
Prosecutors said former colleagues contacted by Manafort and Kilimnik are public relations professionals who had previously worked with them to advocate for Ukraine. Manafort and Kilimnik started reaching out to them after Richard Gates, another former Manafort business partner and Trump campaign aide, pleaded guilty in February to charges of conspiracy and lying to federal agents. Gates is cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation.
“We should talk,” Manafort wrote to one of the public relations people, according to a court filing from prosecutors. “I have made clear that they worked in Europe,” a reference to former European politicians who were part of the lobbying arrangement.
The recipient of the messages provided their content to prosecutors because he was concerned that he was being asked by Manafort to provide false testimony, the court filing said.
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