Judge Sends Manafort To Jail, Citing New Obstruction Charges
A federal judge revoked Paul Manafort’s bail and sent him to jail on Friday to await trial, citing new charges that Mr. Manafort had tried to influence the testimony of two of the government’s witnesses after he had been granted bail.
Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, had posted a $10 million bond and was under house arrest while awaiting his September trial on a host of charges, including money laundering and false statements.
But Judge Amy Berman Jackson of United States District Court for the District of Columbia said Mr. Manafort could not remain free, even under stricter conditions, in the face of new felony charges that he had engaged in witness tampering while out on bail. “This is not middle school,” she said during a 90-minute court hearing. “I can’t take away his cellphone.”
Mr. Trump, in a tweet on Friday, defended Mr. Manafort and criticized Judge Jackson’s action against him, though he seemed to misunderstand what the judge had done.
“Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort, who has represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other top political people and campaigns,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the Mob. What about Comey and Crooked Hillary and all of the others? Very unfair!”
In a superseding indictment filed last week, the prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, claimed that Mr. Manafort and a close associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, had contacted two witnesses earlier this year, hoping to persuade them to testify that Mr. Manafort had never lobbied in the United States for Viktor F. Yanukovych, the pro-Russia president of Ukraine.
The government alleges that Mr. Manafort violated the law by failing to report those lobbying efforts to the Justice Department and by lying to federal authorities about his activities. The day after he was indicted in February in connection with those offenses, prosecutors claim, Mr. Manafort began trying to influence the accounts of two members of a public relations team who had worked with him, reaching out to them by phone, through encrypted messages and through Mr. Kilimnik.
Greg D. Andres, a prosecutor on Mr. Mueller’s team, said Mr. Manafort’s efforts were “not random outreaches,” but part of “a sustained campaign over a five-week period” aimed at getting the witnesses to back up a false story that he had lobbied only in Europe.
Judge Jackson said she was particularly disturbed that some of the contacts occurred after Mr. Manafort had been specifically ordered by another federal judge to avoid all contacts with witnesses involved in Mr. Mueller’s investigation or prosecution of him. That judge is overseeing a separate case in Northern Virginia, where Mr. Manafort faces additional charges of tax evasion, bank fraud and failure to report foreign bank accounts.
“I have no appetite for this,” Judge Jackson told Mr. Manafort shortly before he was led out of the courtroom to be transported to jail. “I have struggled with this decision.”
But she said that even if she explicitly ordered Mr. Manafort never to contact any of the government’s 56 witnesses, she could not be certain he would comply. “Will he call the 57th?” she asked. She also implied that she was running out of patience with Mr. Manafort’s explanations of his behavior, saying the case “continues to be to this minute extraordinary.”
Mr. Manafort’s lawyers suggested that he had reached out innocently to his former colleagues, not knowing whether they had been contacted by Mr. Mueller’s team. But Mr. Andres said Mr. Manafort was simply deceiving the court, just as he had deceived law enforcement agencies and tax authorities over the years. “It’s inconceivable that he did not know they were potential witnesses,” he said.
Besides violating laws on disclosure of lobbying on behalf of foreign interests, the government has accused Mr. Manafort of laundering more than $30 million in income he received over a nine-year period for lobbying for Mr. Yanukovych and his political allies.
As evidence that Mr. Manafort lobbied in the United States, prosecutors submitted as evidence a four-page memo that Mr. Manafort wrote to Mr. Yanukovych detailing his campaign to convince members of Congress, the State Department and the Western news media that Mr. Yanukovych was a champion of democratic reforms. Mr. Yanukovych, who was elected president in 2010, fled to Russia in 2014.
The government alleges that the offenses are part of a complex financial conspiracy led by Mr. Manafort and aided by Rick Gates, Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign chairman, and Mr. Manafort’s right-hand man, Mr. Kilimnik, who has been linked to Russian intelligence.