Manafort Downplays Witness Tampering for DC Circuit

WASHINGTON (CN) – Pushing the D.C. Circuit to let him out on bail, Paul Manafort argued in a court filing Monday that pretrial detention is too harsh given the nonviolent crimes of which he is accused.

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, leaves the federal courthouse in Washington on April 4, 2018. Manafort is appealing a judge’s decision to jail him while he awaits trial on several felony charges. Attorneys for Paul Manafort want the D.C. Circuit to review the order by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson revoking his bond ahead of trial. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Accused of witness tampering, President Trump’s ex-campaign manager has been detained in the Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Virginia, since June 15.

Though Manafort is not accused of threatening the witnesses, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson at the time voiced alarm at the number of contacts Manafort exchanged with the individuals. She cited five cases in which the D.C. Circuit upheld bail revocation for witness tampering where the accused did not necessarily pose a danger to the community.

Though Manafort also faces charges in Washington, D.C., where Jackson is presiding, the former lobbyist is set to go on trial this month in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Prosecutors working under Special Counsel Robert Mueller have said that the D.C. Circuit cannot release Manafort pending appeal without a substantial likelihood that the challenge will succeed on the merits.

Manafort’s attorney Frank Cihlar disputed this, however, in a Monday court filing, saying the D.C. Circuit must only consider the nature and circumstances of the alleged offense, the weight of the evidence against him, his history and personal characteristics and whether he poses a danger to anyone.

“The special procedures and carefully delineated standards governing motions for pretrial release make sense given what is at stake: the defendant’s liberty,” the memorandum says.

Cihlar argues that Manafort’s lack of a criminal history, a lack of proven intent on his part to obstruct justice and his strong family-support system weigh in favor of his immediate release.

Cihlar also says the alleged witness tampering that occurred here was not serious enough to infer that his client would pose any danger to anyone.

The witnesses whom Manafort is accused of trying to influence are identified  in a superseding indictment as Persons D1 and D2.

Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him, has taken issue with the finding last month by Judge Jackson that she need not consider the evidence against him.

“The bulk of Special Counsel’s opposition focuses on the ‘weight of the evidence’ against Mr. Manafort,” the July 9 memo states. “But that evidence is weak – and was ignored by the district court.”

In revoking Manafort’s bail, Jackson said the grand jury indictment for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice meant that probable cause already existed.

Manafort has consistently tried to downplay the significance  of his communications with Persons D1 and D2, which he maintains were not nefarious.

The potential witnesses are said to have acted as intermediaries between Manafort, his Russian right-hand man Konstantin Kilimnik, and the Hapsburg Group, a collective of several former senior European politicians who secretly lobbied on behalf of the Ukraine in the United States.

“The only substantive communications attributed to Mr. Manafort are three brief text messages, to an individual nowhere referenced in the operative indictment, containing accurate information,” Manafort’s filing to the D.C. Circuit says.

Manafort faces multiple indictments for money laundering, conspiracy, bank and tax fraud, failing to register as a foreign agent and obstruction of justice, all stemming from unregistered foreign lobbying work he did on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.

Though the trial of Manafort in Alexandria is scheduled to begin July 25, Manafort is seeking a delay and new venue. His Washington, D.C., trial is slated to start Sept. 17.

At Mueller’s office, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann brought a motion Monday to limit the challenge Manafort has made regarding selective or vindictive prosecution.

Weissmann asked Judge Jackson to bar Manafort from challenging the special counsel’s authority, which he said is an appropriate matter for a pretrial motion, but one that ultimately the jury will not be tasked with resolving.

Filed in Washington, the 7-page motion was nearly identical to one prosecutors filed in the Virginia case on June 22.

Also in the Washington case Monday, defense attorney Richard Westling brought a motion to keep election details to a minimum at Manafort’s trial.

Calling such details “wholly irrelevant” to the tax crimes of which Manafort stands accused, the Epstein Becker lawyer wants to prosecutors to limit what they say about Manafort’s role in the Trump campaign, along with any speculation about the campaign’s collusion with the Russian government.

“There is a very real risk that the jurors in this case — most of whom likely have strong views about President Trump, or have likely formed strong opinions as to the well-publicized allegations that the campaign colluded with Russian officials — will be unable to separate their opinions and beliefs about those matters from the charges to be tried before them in this case,” the 8-page motion says.

Prosecutors told the Virginia court last week that they do not plan to introduce any evidence pertaining to collusion, but they have not yet informed the court in Washington whether they plan to do so there.

Westling also asked the Washington court to preclude evidence pertaining to Manafort’s upcoming trial in Virginia, or his June 15 detention order. Westling says such information “poses a substantial danger of unfair prejudice” since potential jurors might be more likely to view him as a criminal.

Manafort also wants the court to exclude testimony from an attorney who assisted him with his Foreign Agent Registration Act paperwork, for which he is accused of making false statements, since there is no transcript of the special counsel’s interview with the attorney.

“As a result, Mr. Manafort is unable to determine the exact nature of that testimony and cannot fully brief his objections to its possible introduction at trial,” the motion says.

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