Mueller Accuses Manafort of Trying to Tamper With Witnesses
(Bloomberg) -- Special Counsel Robert Mueller accused Paul Manafort, the former chairman of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, of attempting to tamper with witnesses in the federal case charging him with money laundering and acting as an unregistered foreign agent of Ukraine.
Manafort and a longtime associate tried to contact two witnesses to secure false testimony about work that a group of former senior European politicians secretly did on behalf of Ukraine, Mueller’s prosecutors claimed in court papers filed late Monday.
The witness contacts came after Manafort was indicted in Washington for a second time on Feb. 23, when he faced fresh claims of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, prosecutors said.
The tampering accusation, if true, would be a crime and violate the terms of Manafort’s pre-trial release. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson scheduled a hearing for June 15 that could lead to Manafort, 69, going to jail before his trial begins on Sept. 17 in Washington. Manafort, who is confined to his home on $10 million bond, faces a separate trial on July 24 on bank and tax fraud charges in Alexandria, Virginia.
“Mr. Manafort is innocent and nothing about this latest allegation changes our defense,” Manafort’s spokesman Jason Maloni said in an email. “We will do our talking in court.” Defense lawyers must respond with their own court filing by June 8, the judge said.
According to prosecutors, Manafort tried to contact two public relations executives who were associated with a group of former European politicians known as the Hapsburg group. The group was paid more than 2 million euros ($2.34 million) from overseas accounts Manafort controlled to lobby and conduct public relations work in Europe and the U.S. in 2012 and 2013, according to the filing. Those executives, referred to in court papers as Persons D1 and D2, received contacts from Manafort a day after his superseding indictment in Washington, prosecutors said.
“Manafort and Person A -- who is a longtime associate of Manafort’s -- repeatedly contacted Persons D1 and D2 in an effort to secure materially false testimony concerning the activities of the Hapsburg group,” according to the filing. “Person D1 has told the government that he understood Manafort’s outreach to be an effort to ‘suborn perjury,’ because Person D1 knew that the Hapsburg group worked in the United States — not just Europe.”
The description of Person A matches earlier ones in court filings of Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who worked for Manafort in Ukraine. Prosecutors have said he was a former military intelligence officer, something that he denies. He has not been charged in the case.
Both Persons D1 and D2 received encrypted messages from Manafort, which they preserved and gave to the government, according to the filing. Manafort also sent Person D1 a copy of a news article and tried to call him several times.
Beyond those attempts, Manafort’s associate sent several encrypted messages in April to Person D1, including one that said: “My friend P is looking for ways to connect to you to pass several messages. Can we arrange that.”
Person D2 told investigators that he believed that Manafort and Person A contacted him to deliver a message to the Hapsburg group -- if they were contacted by anyone, they should say that their lobbying and public relations work was exclusively in Europe, according to the filing. That false story would seek to undermine the truth -- that the Hapsburg group worked in both Europe and as unregistered agents in the U.S., prosecutors said.
While none of the former leaders is named in the indictment, other documents point to Romano Prodi, a former prime minister of Italy; Alfred Gusenbauer, a former chancellor of Austria; and Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former president of Poland. In interviews or statements after the indictment, all denied being paid by Manafort. Prodi and Gusenbauer said they advocated for better relations between Ukraine and the European Union before the 2014 uprising in Ukraine that toppled the pro-Russian government.
Their lobbying efforts included a bid to dissuade American senators from backing a resolution condemning as politically motivated the Ukrainian prosecution of that nation’s former pro-Western president, Yulia Tymoshenko.
Prosecutors also filed an affidavit from a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, Brock Domin. It cited documents produced by Persons D1 and D2, statements they made to the government, telephone records obtained by prosecutors and “documents recovered pursuant to a court-authorized search of Manafort’s iCloud account.”
Domin said that evidence showed that Manafort, while on bail, and with the help of Person A, “contacted and attempted to contact Persons D1 and D2 in an effort to influence their testimony and to otherwise conceal evidence." He added that the investigation was continuing.
The cases are U.S. v. Manafort, 17-cr-201, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington) and U.S. v. Manafort, 18-cr-83, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).
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