Judge Orders New Hearing In Alleged Manafort Witness Tampering

Jun 5, 2018
Originally published on June 5, 2018 11:56 am

Updated at 12:56 p.m. ET

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered a new hearing at which she is expected to consider accusations by prosecutors that former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort tampered with witnesses in his case.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered Manafort, prosecutors, witnesses and others to be prepared to appear and to testify on June 15, according to the new order.

Prosecutors have asked Berman Jackson to rescind Manafort's bail and order him to jail ahead of his trial, which is scheduled for this autumn.

Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, issued a statement that did not address the substance of prosecutors' claims.

"Mr. Manafort is innocent and nothing about this latest allegation changes our defense," he said. "We will do our talking in court."

Prosecutors' allegations ramp up the legal pressure on Manafort, who faces federal criminal charges in both Washington, D.C., and Virginia. The office of Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller may want Manafort to take a plea deal and cooperate with prosecutors.

Manafort denies any wrongdoing and has pleaded not guilty in both his cases.

It is unclear what Manafort might have to offer investigators, but he served as Trump's campaign boss during the thick of the presidential race, and he also took part in key moments, including the infamous meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who offered dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Manafort's longtime business partner and the Trump campaign's former vice chairman, Rick Gates, has changed his plea to guilty and agreed to give evidence to prosecutors.

Tampering allegations

In court papers filed late Monday, lawyers working for special counsel Mueller charged that Manafort contacted witnesses to try to get them to provide false testimony when they appear in court.

The government says Manafort made the outreach after being hit with a superseding indictment in February that included charges of failing to register as a foreign agent.

The government has accused Manafort of secretly organizing a group of former European politicians, dubbed "the Hapsburg Group," to advocate on behalf of Ukraine in Europe and the United States.

After those charges were unveiled, the government says Manafort and a longtime associate — identified only as "Person A" — repeatedly contacted two witnesses to try to influence what they would tell investigators about the Ukraine lobbying work.

Prosecutors say Manafort reached out by phone and encrypted messaging apps to the witnesses, both of whom worked for a public relations firm involved in the lobbying effort.

According to the text messages, which the witnesses provided to the government, Manafort wanted to get the individuals to say the Ukraine lobbying work was exclusively confined to Europe.

One of the witnesses told investigators that he "understood Manafort's outreach to be an effort to 'suborn perjury'" because he knew the former European politicians had lobbied in both Europe and the U.S.

Prosecutors say that Manafort's efforts to shape the witnesses' testimony is a clear violation of federal law and his conditions of release — he has been under home confinement on a $10 million bond. So prosecutors have asked the presiding judge to consider pretrial detention as a way to ensure Manafort doesn't commit any future violations.

Prosecutors unhappy

This is not the first time that prosecutors have complained about Manafort's actions while he awaits trial.

Last year, Mueller's team accused Manafort of working with an associate with alleged links to Russian intelligence to covertly write an opinion piece to try to sway public opinion. Prosecutors say that effort violated a court-imposed gag order.

Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and served as its campaign manager from June to August of that year. The FBI reportedly opened a criminal investigation of Manafort in 2014. In July, FBI agents raided his home and seized documents. He surrendered to agents in October after being indicted by a federal grand jury.

NPR correspondent Carrie Johnson contributed to this report.

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