WASHINGTON (CN) – Paul Manafort, President Trump’s embattled ex-campaign manager, argued Monday in a D.C. Circuit brief that he should be released from jail ahead of trial so he can assist with preparation.
Attorney Frank Cihlar filed the brief just as a federal judge in Virginia agreed to delay by six days the first of two criminal trials facing Manafort related to his lobbying work on behalf of a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.
Manafort claims U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson should have weighed the strength of the government’s evidence of alleged witness tampering that landed him behind bars pending trial.
“There are no facts to support a finding that the weight of the evidence against Mr. Manafort was strong enough to command his immediate detention just before two immediate federal criminal trials,” the brief says.
Jackson had revoked Manafort’s pretrial release after a grand jury brought a superseding indictment against him on June 8 for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
During a June 15 detention hearing, Jackson indicated that she need not get into the merits of the evidence since the indictment itself meant probable cause exists.
But Cihlar challenged that in the July 23 appeal brief, calling the evidence against his client “thin.”
The grand jury brought the superseding indictment, which also names as a defendant Manafort’s long-time right-hand man Konstantin Kilimnik, days after prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team had asked the court to revoke Manafort’s bond for witness tampering.
The witnesses whose testimony Manafort allegedly tried to bend are identified in the indictment as Persons D1 and D2, who served as intermediaries for the Hapsburg Group, a collective of several former senior European politicians whom Manafort allegedly paid to lobby in the United States on behalf of Ukraine.
The pair also allegedly tried to engage two unnamed Washington, D.C., firms to lobby on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
According to Cihlar, witness tampering would have required Manafort to ask Persons D1 and D2 to make false statements.
“Mr. Manafort did not know D1 was a witness or potential witness, he never suggested that D1 say anything to authorities, and he did not say anything untruthful to D1,” the appeal brief says (emphasis original).
Prosecutors meanwhile said the contacts spanned five weeks and described them as a sustained campaign, not casual attempts to communicate.
Jackson had determined back in June that since Manafort committed the alleged crime while out on bail for the serious charges facing him – conspiracy, money laundering, failure to register as a foreign agent and making false statements – and his propensity for taking matters into his own hands, that he would likely not obey any court order.
“That claim is meritless,” Cihlar wrote. “There was no valid support for that conclusion, and it rests on clear legal and factual error.”
Manafort also argues that Jackson erroneously relied on a court order from U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III that forbid him from having contacts with witnesses in the investigation. Jackson, however, noted during the June 15 hearing that she was not relying on Ellis’ order, only that she was permitted to consider it in weighing whether to revoke Manafort’s pretrial release.
In any case, Cihlar argued Monday that his client’s alleged contacts happened prior to Ellis’ order.
“The few alleged communications that occurred afterward were general greetings that contained nothing of substance, much less false statements,” the brief says.
It is unclear when the three-judge D.C. Circuit appeals panel will rule on Manafort’s challenge to his detention order.
Cihlar and the special counsel’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Manafort’s trial in Alexandria, Virginia is now scheduled to begin July 31.