Trump-Russia collusion investigations

US judge orders Trump’s former campaign manager to jail while awaiting trials

Paul Manafort tried to tamper with witnesses while under house arrest and imprisonment was needed to assure he would not try again, prosecutors said

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 June, 2018, 1:44am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 June, 2018, 3:54am

A federal district judge ordered Paul Manafort, US President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, to jail on Friday while awaiting trial on federal conspiracy and money-laundering charges after special counsel Robert Mueller accused him of witness tampering while under house arrest.

The order by US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District of Columbia to imprison Manafort came in a federal court hearing after Manafort had been asking to post a US$10 million bond and end seven months of home detention.

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US authorities took Manafort into custody and escorted him out of a packed courtroom, where his wife looked on during the hearing. The dramatic turn means that Manafort will have to prepare for two federal trials in the coming weeks – one in Washington, and one in Virginia – while confined to a jail cell.

Jackson revoked Manafort’s bail, saying she had no choice but to lock him up because she couldn’t stop him from contacting people.

“This is not middle school,” Jackson said to the lawyers. “I can’t take his cellphone.”

Manafort faces a trial before Jackson in September and a trial in July in Alexandria, Virginia, on bank- and tax-fraud charges. It was not immediately clear where Manafort would be imprisoned.

The order marked the latest fall for Manafort, a political power broker and confidant of Republican presidents dating to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Prosecutors alleged that by committing a new crime while on release, Manafort violated terms of his home confinement in Alexandria, Virginia, and they asked the judge to revoke or revise it.

Manafort, 69, has pleaded not guilty to all charges in what prosecutors say was a broader conspiracy to launder more than US$30 million over a decade of undisclosed lobbying for a former pro-Russian politician and party in Ukraine.

The case against him includes failing to register in the US as a lobbyist for a foreign government.

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But on June 8, he and a Russian business associate were newly charged with obstruction of justice after prosecutors said they tried to persuade two potential witnesses to tell investigators Ukraine lobbying effort did not include activity in the United States.

Manafort’s lawyers have denied the tampering allegations and accused prosecutors of conjuring charges to pressure him to turn against Trump and his associates.

Manafort faced arraignment on Friday on the obstruction counts and is set for trial in Washington on September 17 over the allegations of secret lobbying.

The federal trial in Virginia on July 25 is for related tax and bank fraud charges brought as prosecutors reviewed his financial dealings.

He had been confined to his home on electronic monitoring and other restrictions since he was first indicted in late October during Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Most of the criminal counts relate to activity that preceded Manafort’s time as the Trump campaign manager, which ran from March to August 2016 and ended when he resigned amid news reports that he had received secret cash payments for his Ukraine consulting.

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Soon before Manafort was due in court on Friday morning, Trump told reporters at an impromptu news conference at the White House that “Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time.”

Prosecutors had previously complained to the judge about Manafort’s behaviour while awaiting trial. In December, they accused him of violating a gag order by helping to ghostwrite an op-ed piece defending his work in Ukraine for an English-language newspaper in Kiev.

Jackson declined to punish Manafort then but warned that she would likely consider any similar actions in the future as a violation.

In asking for Manafort to be jailed, prosecutor Greg Andres said in court that there was a danger Manafort would continue to commit crimes.

“There is nothing on the record of this court that assures that Mr. Manafort will abide by (any) conditions” of pre-trial release short of jail, Andres said.

As both sides discussed the witness tampering allegation, Richard Westling, a lawyer for Manafort, urged Jackson to consider options short of jail that could be added to the existing terms of his release “that can prevent this from occurring in the future”.

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He said that a no-contact order with others in the case could achieve that result and said that the current release terms had not explicitly included that restriction.

Andres responded that “it’s inconceivable that he [Manafort] doesn’t know that they’re potential witnesses”.

The indictment last fall of Manafort and his long-time deputy, Rick Gates, marked the first public charges in the special counsel investigation.

Gates, 46, pleaded guilty in February to lying to investigators and agreed to provide information in a cooperation deal with Mueller’s team.

Manafort has repeatedly declared his intention to fight the charges in both jurisdictions, with his lawyers saying that he is being wrongly prosecuted for financial activities that have nothing to do with collusion to affect the election.

Prosecutors have said that Manafort’s role in the campaign and long-standing ties to Russian-backed politicians, financiers and others merited investigation into whether any of them served as backchannels to Russia.

The obstruction charges flow out of lobbying work in 2012 on behalf of the pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich and his Party of Regions.

A Manafort associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, also was charged with obstruction in connection with the alleged witness-tampering. Kilimnik is believed to be in Moscow – and thus probably safe from arrest because Russia does not extradite its citizens. Prosecutors have previously said Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence, which he denies.

The alleged cover-up of the lobbying stems from work that prosecutors say Manafort, Kilimnik and others did with former European politicians, referred to informally as the “Habsburg group”, to advocate on Ukraine’s behalf to US and European officials.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg.