Columns

Manafort Accused of Witness Tampering Ahead of Trials

Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, arrives at Federal District Court for a hearing May 23, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller is asking the court to revoke former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s house arrest and potentially keep him in jail until trial under the allegation that Manafort has been engaging in felony witness tampering.

In a 94-page document filed in the U.S. District Courts for the District of Columbia and the Eastern District of Virginia, where Manafort faces a 32-count indictment includes charges of false income tax returns, failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, bank fraud conspiracy, and bank fraud, Mueller says Manafort has been contacting potential witnesses and asking them to lie to investigators.

A separate indictment against Manafort in D.C. District Court includes conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts. He’s expected to go to trial in Virginia late next month and in D.C. in September.

He’s currently under house arrest, allowed outside with GPS monitoring under limited circumstances such as court dates and doctor’s appointments. Prosecutors allege he used encrypted WhatsApp messages and phone calls to witness tamper, and said the contacts were confirmed through a search of Manafort’s iCloud account.

In February, when the Virginia indictments were levied against Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates pleaded guilty to a raft of charges and started cooperating with Mueller, Manafort allegedly “repeatedly”  contacted two unnamed individuals who had worked with him on lobbying business, including setting up congressional meetings. Manafort allegedly asked them to tell investigators that their lobbying work had only happened in Europe, and to get their European contacts on the same page as well.

“We should talk. I have made clear that they worked in Europe,” Manafort wrote in one text, attaching an article about the Hapsburg Group — a group of former politicians led by an unnamed former European chancellor who were allegedly paid two million laundered euros from offshore accounts in 2012-13 to lobby Congress on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president ousted in 2014 now living in exile in Russia.

An unnamed Manafort confidante called Person A and described as having ties to Russian intelligence also contacted the lobbying assistants to try to get them to say lobbying didn’t occur in the U.S., according to the court document.

“In an effort to connect Manafort with Person D1, Person A reached out to Person D2, a longtime partner of Person D1. On February 28, five days after the Superseding Indictment, Person A attempted to contact Person D2 via an encrypted messaging application. Person A wrote: ‘My friend P is trying to reach [Person D1] to brief him on what’s going on.’ Two minutes later, Person A added: ‘Basically P wants to give him a quick summary that he says to everybody (which is true) that our friends never lobbied in the US, and the purpose of the program was EU.’ Approximately five hours later, Person A switched to another encrypted application and sent a similar series of messages to Person D2, including a message relaying Manafort’s ‘summary’ that the Hapsburg group never lobbied in the United States,” states the filing.

“…Like Person D1, Person D2 understood that Manafort and Person A were reaching out to him and Person D1 in an effort to influence the testimony of potential witnesses.”

Mueller’s team noted that Manafort was granted pretrial release on the condition that he not break any laws, and prosecutors now say they have “little confidence that restrictions short of detention will assure Manafort’s compliance.”

The judge in D.C. had not yet ruled on Mueller’s request to “promptly” review the conditions of his release in light of the witness tampering allegations.

President Trump tweeted about Manafort on Sunday: “Paul Manafort came into the campaign very late and was with us for a short period of time (he represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole & many others over the years), but we should have been told that Comey and the boys were doing a number on him, and he wouldn’t have been hired!”

Manafort was on Trump’s campaign team from March to August 2016, starting as a delegate-wrangler and serving as campaign manager in the last three months. Gates came on board with Manafort and stayed for the duration of the campaign, later serving as deputy chairman for Trump’s inaugural committee and then starting a pro-Trump PAC.