Donald Trump's former campaign manager is currently on bail pending trial for money laundering and illegal lobbying
Former Trump aide Paul Manafort could be jailed for witness tampering
Donald Trump's former campaign manager stands accused of witness tampering and could be sent to jail before his trial on money laundering and illegal lobbying charges that are part of a long running investigation into alleged election meddling by Russia.
Prosecutors on Monday said Paul Manafort, a lobbyist who became a top Trump aide in 2016, contacted witnesses eight times by phone and encrypted text messaging in February for the purpose of securing "materially false testimony".
Mr Manafort, who in the past worked for pro-Moscow politicians in Ukraine, has emerged as a central figure in the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian intelligence.
Although he only served three months as campaign manager and none of the charges relate to the election itself, he faces a potential sentence of up to 80 years. Trump associates fear he is under intense pressure to "flip" and provide evidence against Mr Trump to prosecutors.
For his part, the president on Tuesday returned to his attacks on the federal investigation, dismissing it as a "witch hunt" that had uncovered no evidence of collusion. In recent days, he and his legal team have also been laying the political groundwork to issue pardons to anyone caught up in the investigation – including the president himself.
Mr Manafort has pleaded not guilty to a slew of charges – including illegal lobbying, lying to investigators and bank fraud – setting up a July trial date, the first to result from the investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel.
Mr Manafort has been under house arrest since being indicted in October but could now be sent to jail for breaching his bail terms.
Documents filed in court on Monday, allege that he sought to "suborn perjury" from witnesses.
Records show he tried to contact two members of a firm of former senior European officials, informally called the Hapsburg group. This firm was retained in 2012 by Mr Manafort to advocate for Ukraine in a $2m deal without the details being properly declared to US authorities, according to the case against him.
Mr Manafort has denied the allegations and says the deal was for lobbying in Europe rather than the United States.
The court filings suggest his attempts to reach the witnesses were ignored.
After that, an associate — referred to as Person A in the documents — also tried to contact the two witnesses. The description of Person A matches his long-time business colleague in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik, a suspected Russian intelligence operative.
In April he used Whatsapp to message one of the witnesses. "My friend P is looking for ways to connect to you to pass you several messages,” he wrote. “Can we arrange that?"
Other messages spell out that “P” wanted to explain that “our friends never lobbied in the US, and the purpose of the programme was EU”.
The latest revelations increase the pressure on a White House that has never managed to shrug off allegations of collusion with Russia.
And it will increase pressure on Mr Manafort to become a co-operating witness, according to Ned Price, a former special assistant to Barack Obama.
"Paul Manafort is really the last man standing," he told MSNBC, listing other campaign aides who have "flipped", including Mike Flynn, who served briefly as National Security Adviser, and George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI agents.
"The prospect of jail time – especially for someone who is used to a fairly lavish lifestyle with residences around the world and expensive suits – could be the straw that breaks Manafort's back when it comes to an inducement to co-operate with prosecutors,” he said.
For his part, Mr Trump has in recent days tried to distance himself from his former campaign chief and accused the FBI of failing to warn him about any investigation.
"Paul Manafort came into the campaign very late and was with us for a short period of time (he represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole & many others over the years), but we should have been told that Comey and the boys were doing a number on him, and he wouldn’t have been hired," he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
On Tuesday, Mr Trump complained once again that Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, had recused himself from the probe.
"So much time and money wasted, so many lives ruined...and Sessions knew better than most that there was No Collusion," he wrote on Twitter.