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Manafort Jailed Ahead of Trial Over Witness Tampering

A federal judge agreed Friday to jail President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort for witness tampering ahead of trial. 

WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge agreed Friday to jail President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort for witness tampering ahead of trial.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued the decision this morning at a hearing where Manafort also pleaded not guilty to two charges of obstruction of justice.

After an hour of proceedings where she went over what the law requires and heard brief arguments, Jackson said she struggled with what to do.

"This is not middle school, I can't take his cellphone," Jackson said.

Special counsel Robert Mueller unveiled the new charges last week in a superseding indictment that accused Manafort of working with Russian-born Konstantin Kilimnik to sway the testimony of potential witnesses in the case.

The witnesses whose testimony Manafort and Kilimnik allegedly tried to bend are identified in the indictment only as Persons D1 and D2.

Prior filings by Mueller describe Manafort and Kilimnik’s work with a collective of several former senior European politicians known as the Hapsburg Group, and Persons D1 and D2 are said to have acted as intermediaries between these parties. Mueller says the group was paid by Manafort  to secretly lobby on behalf of Ukraine in the United States while appearing to provide independent assessments.

Judge Jackson said Friday that she was troubled by the number of contacts Manafort exchanged with the person D1 while he was already on bond, and while he was already ordered by another judge not to do this very thing.

The other judge to whom Jackson referred is U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, who is presiding over  separate criminal charges Manafort faces in Alexandria, Virginia.

Jackson did not get into the merits of the allegations during the hearing, noting that the indictment itself means there is probable cause.

Special counsel prosecutor Greg Andres emphasized in his argument that Manafort used encrypted applications to communicate with multiple people whose identities cannot be established.

He described the contacts Manafort and Kilimnik made with Persons D1 and D2 as a sustained campaign spanning five weeks, not casual attempts at communication. Andres noted that prosecutors learned about the contacts not from monitoring Manafort, but from a witness in the case who brought the information to prosecutors.

When asked to explain why Manafort would pose a danger to the community, Andres pointed to the new obstruction of justice charges, arguing that he will continue to commit such crimes unless the court intervenes.

Before revoking bail, Jackson recounted how Manafort has conducted himself in the case, saying the lobbyist has a pattern of taking matters into his own hands. She said Manafort abused the court's trust and that she didn't think she could draft a clear enough order that Manafort would obey.

"I have no appetite for this ... I cannot turn a blind eye," she said.

Trump tweeted some hours after the hearing that Manafort was treated unfairly.

"Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort, who has represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other top political people and campaigns," 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!"

The order revoking Manafort's bail is not a sentence as he must still go to trial or reach a plea deal. Manafort faces charges of conspiracy, money laundering, failure to register as a foreign agent, making false statements and obstruction of justice in Washington, D.C. In the Virginia indictment, which Mueller is also prosecuting, Manafort faces charges of bank and tax fraud.

None of the charges against him relate directly to Russian interference in the 2016 election but instead pertain to lobbying work he did on behalf of the pro-Russia Party of Regions in Ukraine.

Defense attorney Richard Westling hinged his arguments on the fact that Manafort is not accused of having threatened the witnesses here, and that it was not Jackson's court that issued the order not to contact them.

Jackson nevertheless cited five cases where the court upheld bail revocation for people who did not necessarily pose a danger to the community and lost their bail over nonthreatening witness tampering.

"Was there anything not abundantly clear about Judge Ellis' order?" Jackson asked.

Jackson noted that she cannot enforce an order from another court but that she could certainly consider it in weighing her decision. She said the breadth of Ellis' order in particular struck her.

"Is it your position that he can call witnesses in this case and not that case," Jackson asked.

After the court revoked Manafort's bail, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani brushed off witness tampering as an insignificant offense.

“I don’t understand the justification for putting him in jail,” Giuliani told the New York Daily News. “You put a guy in jail if he’s trying to kill witnesses, not just talking to witnesses.”

“When the whole thing is over," Giuliani also said, "things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons."

Back at the hearing meanwhile Westling claimed that every attempt to communicate with Persons D1 and D2 after Ellis' order came from Kilimnik, not Manafort.

Westling also described the difficulty of gauging whom the court’s order barred Manafort from contacting.

"When you know who they are, it’s really easy to say, 'stay away from them,'" Westling said.

But Jackson emphasized that, even without an order from her, Manafort knew that the witnesses were intermediaries for the Hapsburg group.


Now that the defense has a list of witnesses from the special counsel prosecutors, Westling said he will instruct Manafort not to contact any of them.

Though Jackson said Manafort was presumedly advised of that requirement from the get-go, Westling tried to persuade her that a court order would suffice.

"If we simply cut off that line of contact, it will solve the problem," he said.

Jackson repeatedly vocalized her frustration with how to resolve Manafort's conduct. "This continues to be from this very minute an extraordinarily difficult decision."

Defense counsel ushered Manafort out of the courtroom after the 90-minute hearing. About an hour later, Jackson issued an order saying that Manafort will be taken into custody today. Jackson refused to stay her order pending appeal.

Manafort's trial in Virginia is slated to kick off in July, followed by the Washington trial in September.

Categories / Criminal, Government, International, Politics, Trials

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