Judge sends Paul Manafort to jail, pending trial
(CNN) — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort will await his trial for foreign lobbying charges from jail.
Two weeks after Robert Mueller’s prosecutors dropped new accusations of witness tampering on him, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson Friday revoked Manafort’s bail, which allowed him out on house arrest.
The order marks an end to months of attempts from Manafort to lighten his house arrest restrictions after he was charged and pleaded not guilty to foreign lobbying violations.
“The harm in this case is harm to the administration of justice and harm to the integrity of the court’s system,” Berman Jackson told Manafort in court.
The judge emphasized to Manafort how she could not make enough rulings to keep him from speaking improperly with witnesses, after he had used multiple text messaging apps and called a potential witness on an Italian cell phone.
“This is not middle school. I can’t take his cell phone,” she said of Manafort. “I thought about his long and hard, Mr. Manafort. I have no appetite for this.”
Manafort also entered a not guilty plea to two additional charges levied against him last week, for witness tampering and conspiracy to obstruct justice. In total, Manafort faces seven criminal charges in DC federal court.
Three US marshals led Manafort out of the courtroom into the prisoner holding area immediately after the judge’s ruling. He was not placed in handcuffs. Before he disappeared through the door, he turned toward his wife and supporters and gave a stilted wave.
Minutes later, a marshal returned to give his wife, Kathleen, still standing in the courtroom’s front row, Manafort’s wallet, belt and the burgundy tie he wore Friday.
In her wind-up to her order, Berman Jackson also gave a brief nod to the bitter environment around the case.
“This hearing is not about politics, is not about conduct of the office of the special counsel.”
Had $10 million bail
When Manafort was first arraigned and pleaded not guilty in October, a magistrate judge set a $10 million bail price and placed him under house arrest, confiscating his passports. Manafort then attempted to find assets of his own and through real estate and family members’ accounts. In December, the judge signed off on his plan — provided he could provide the correct documentation. It didn’t come through, according to the court filings.
Prosecutors have argued all along the jet-setting political consultant was a significant flight risk. As the process to negotiate his bail dragged on, prosecutors discovered possible mortgage fraud related to some of the properties he hoped to use as bail. That’s when they finalized additional federal criminal charges against him in Virginia.
In the past month, Manafort finally came up with a plan to post some of his own and others’ properties for his bail. The prosecutors appeared to agree with the plan, according to court filings.
Then, last week, Mueller’s team alleged they found evidence Manafort had tried to tell possible witnesses in his case to lie about their lobbying efforts under him in the US.
The witness tampering allegations, which also resulted in new criminal charges, were enough Friday for him to lose his house arrest privileges.
Prosecutors argued that Manafort is a “danger to the community” and that he committed a crime while out on release, obstruction of justice. They said he carried out a “sustained campaign of over five weeks” using different phones and apps to try to mold testimony of witnesses.
Defense attorneys said revocation of bail would be very harsh. They said Manafort didn’t know who the government witnesses are and the solution is for prosecutors to say who their witnesses are and the judge can say not to contact those people.
“This will not happen again,” defense attorney Richard Westling said.
Enters not guilty plea
He faces another 18 criminal charges for financial fraud and false reporting allegations in Virginia federal court. That case is set to go to trial earlier than the DC case, with a late July start date.
His DC trial is set to begin in September, meaning he could spend the next three or more months imprisoned.
Manafort has maintained his innocence and vowed to fight the charges since he was indicted alongside his longtime deputy Rick Gates in late October. Gates since changed his plea to guilty and agreed to help prosecutors, because of the significant cost of his legal fees and attention bearing down on him and his family. Another associate of Manafort’s, Konstantin Kilimnik, who lives in Moscow, was charged with witness tampering and has not yet appeared in court.
Prosecutors haven’t tied Manafort, Gates and Kilimnik’s alleged wrongdoings to the actions of the Trump campaign, which is at the core of Mueller’s investigation. However, prosecutors have said in several previous court filings they are looking into Manafort’s contacts with Russians and Ukrainians — including Kilimnik — and possible coordination he may have orchestrated with them while he oversaw the campaign.
Manafort currently spends his days stuck in his Alexandria, Virginia, apartment under court order. He can leave only for legal meetings, medical needs and religious observances. The judge has allowed him to travel a few times for special exceptions, such as to his father-in-law’s funeral on Long Island and his godson’s baptism in Virginia.
He wears two ankle bracelets that track his movements through GPS technology, one on each leg.
(CNN) — Paul Manafort could be in big trouble. The cozy house-arrest situation of the former chairman of Donald Trump’s election campaign may rapidly change to confinement in a federal correctional facility if a judge in his case believes the special counsel’s new allegation of witness tampering.
Judges take a dim view of defendants who improperly pressure witnesses, though prosecutors are rarely chastised and virtually never prosecuted for similar conduct. A tampering allegation could be a devastating blow to the aggressive Manafort defense — though he has not been charged.
Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty to charges related to his failure to disclose his US lobbying work for a foreign government and to bank fraud and other financial crimes, is currently out on house arrest and a $10 million unsecured bail while he awaits trials in Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Judges view the protection of witnesses as a paramount concern of the criminal justice system and customarily come down hard on defendants who threaten, use improper pressure or clearly seek to suborn perjury.
To date, prosecutors have been particularly tough on Manafort, lodging the most serious charges against him of anyone caught up in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative dragnet. Many believe federal prosecutors are trying to force Manafort to testify against President Trump.
The law normally permits prosecutors, defense attorneys and even defendants themselves to communicate with potential witnesses. Prosecutors, however, often act like they own the witnesses, always lurking in the background ready to swoop in on the defense if they think witnesses are being threatened or pressured to change their testimony.
For this reason, careful defense attorneys usually warn their clients to steer clear of the witnesses. The safer route is to let defense attorneys and their investigators handle witness contact. Occasionally, though, the client gets involved with or without the permission of his lawyer.
What does Mueller’s team have on Manafort, in this instance?
An FBI affidavit submitted to the US District Court for the District of Columbia indicates that, after accessing Manafort’s cloud-based Apple account, investigators determined that he has been communicating with someone described by the FBI as “Person A” in an attempt to get “encrypted” messages to members of the “Hapsburg Group,” a group of individuals and European politicians allegedly connected to Manafort’s Ukrainian and lobbying efforts in eastern Europe.
The communication, according to the prosecutors, conveyed the message that “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.”
The Mueller team asserts this is clearly an attempt to “suborn perjury” because Manafort and the European witnesses in question are well aware that his lobbying efforts extended to the United States. Prosecutors are saying that this is an attempt to pressure or coax the witnesses to lie in support of a false Manafort narrative.
Manafort’s aggressive defense team can be expected to fight these allegations by portraying them as another example of the overreach of Mueller’s prosecutorial team, which was recently criticized by US District Court Judge T.S. Ellis, who is presiding over charges filed against Manafort in Virginia.
These witness-tampering allegations, however, were submitted to the Washington, D.C., federal district court of Judge Amy Berman Jackson, where one of Manafort’s cases is docketed for trial. The Manafort attorneys are likely to argue that the FBI surveillance of Manafort’s “cloud storage” was done without “probable cause” and that in any event, it is not a crime to tell others what your defense in a criminal case will be.
They are likely to characterize the evidence of tampering as thin and the witness tampering accusations against Manafort as yet another improper pressure tactic to undermine the defense and force Manafort’s cooperation with the special counsel. Preparing a complex defense involving thousands of documents with an incarcerated defendant is extraordinarily difficult. That is why the new allegations could place Manafort in an exceptionally perilous position.
Federal witness tampering is a serious crime. Depending of the circumstances, it can be punished by up to 20 years in prison under 18 U.S.C. § 1512.
If the court believes there is probable cause to support such charges, Manafort would likely be incarcerated in a federal correctional facility with limited ability to communicate with anyone other than his attorneys and family members until his trials are concluded.