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Manafort Sent to Jail After Witness Tampering Accusations

Paul Manafort arrives at federal court as his lawyer Kevin Downing and wife Kathleen Manafort follow on June 15, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sent to jail today as a judge agreed with special counsel Robert Mueller that the lobbyist needed to stay behind bars until his trial.

A week ago, a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia returned the third superseding indictment against Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik of Moscow, adding obstruction of justice charges alleging they “knowingly and intentionally attempted to corruptly persuade” two people associated with Manafort’s lobbying operation “with intent to influence, delay, and prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding.”

Manafort’s attorneys argued that his “innocuous” contacts with witnesses was twisted into a “sinister plot” of witness tampering by prosecutors.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that there was no way to restrain Manafort from contacting people if he remained on bail. “This is not middle school,” she said. “I can’t take his cell phone.”

Jackson said she “struggled with this decision,” but ultimately Manafort “abused the trust” placed in him by the court.

Manafort, the first Trump campaign official to be jailed as a result of the Mueller probe, gave a brief wave and was led away from the courtroom by U.S. Marshals, who transferred his personal possessions over to his wife.

Manafort is charged with conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, and false statements, in addition to the obstruction charge. He’s expected to go to trial in Virginia late next month and in D.C. in September.

He had been 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.

Manafort allegedly asked two unnamed individuals who had worked with him on lobbying business, including setting up congressional meetings, to tell investigators that their lobbying work had only happened in Europe, and to get their European contacts on the same page as well.

Kilimnik, who worked for Manafort in Ukraine, is believed to also be the Person A in the document filed in March by the special counsel that said former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates was talking to a former Russian intelligence officer before the election, a fact known to Gates at the time.

“That Gates and Person A were directly communicating in September and October 2016 was pertinent to the investigation. Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel’s Office assess that Person A has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016,” said a court filing.

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.

Gates struck a plea deal in February on a raft of charges similar to what Manafort is facing.

Before the judge’s decision to revoke bail, President Trump told reporters on the White House lawn today that “Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign.”

“But I feel so — I’ll tell you, I feel a little badly about it. They went back 12 years to get things that he did 12 years ago?” Trump said. “You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time. He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked for John McCain, or his firm did. He worked for many other Republicans. He worked for me — what? — for 49 days or something. A very short period of time.”

“I feel badly for some people, because they’ve gone back 12 years to find things about somebody. And I don’t think it’s right.”