Thursday 20 September 2018

Judge 'no choice' but to lock up Manafort

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives at the courthouse in Washington yesterday for a hearing. Photo: Getty Images
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives at the courthouse in Washington yesterday for a hearing. Photo: Getty Images

Chad Day

Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for US President Donald Trump, has been ordered into custody after a federal judge revoked his house arrest, citing newly filed obstruction of justice charges.

The move by US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson made Mr Manafort the first Trump campaign official to be jailed as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Already under intense pressure to co-operate with prosecutors in hopes of securing leniency, Mr Manafort now loses the relative freedom he enjoyed while he prepared for two criminal trials in which he faces the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.

In issuing her ruling, Judge Jackson said she had "struggled" with the decision but she could not "turn a blind eye" to his conduct.

"You have abused the trust placed in you six months ago," said the judge, noting that she first set bail for him then. Mr Manafort was confined to house arrest and posted a $10m (€8.6m) bond.

While Judge Jackson said she struggled with the decision, she accused Mr Manafort of treating the proceedings as "just another marketing exercise".

Ex FBI director Robert Muller
Ex FBI director Robert Muller

She revoked Mr Manafort's bail, saying she had no choice but to lock him up because she couldn't stop him from having contact with people.

"This is not middle school," the judge said to the lawyers. "I can't take his cellphone."

A federal grand jury indicted Mr Manafort and longtime associate Konstantin Kilimnik last week on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, adding to the multiple felony counts he already faced. The charges do not relate to his work on the Trump campaign or involve allegations of Russian election interference.

Mr Manafort (69) and Mr Kilimnik are accused of attempting to tamper with witnesses in the case by trying to get them to lie about the nature of their Ukrainian political work.

Prosecutors say Mr Manafort and Mr Kilimnik tried to get the two witnesses to say that lobbying work carried out by clandestinely paid former politicians only occurred in Europe and not the US, a contention the two witnesses said they knew to be false. The distinction matters because unregistered foreign lobbying in the US is a crime, while lobbying solely in Europe would be outside the special counsel's jurisdiction.

Manafort's legal defense fund asked in a Twitter post, "Why is he the target of a partisan investigation?" echoing a theme of Mr Trump and his supporters that the Mueller inquiry is a political witch hunt. Trump said it was unfair to send Manafort to jail.

"Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort," Trump wrote on Twitter even though Manafort has not been sentenced - he has not been convicted on any of the charges. "Didn't know Manafort was the head of the Mob," Trump wrote. "Very unfair!"

Mr Manafort's lawyers have accused prosecutors of conjuring a "sinister plot" out of "innocuous" contacts. They filed a memo written by one of the witnesses for Mr Manafort that his lawyers say shows the work of the group, known as the Hapsburg group, was European focused.

In response, prosecutors filed additional documents showing extensive lobbying contacts by the group in the US, which they said showed "the falsity of his representation". One of the documents was a 2013 memo from Mr Manafort to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

It described how Mr Manafort had designed a programme that used the Hapsburg members to lobby US politicians and influence American public opinion, including meetings on Capitol Hill.

Mr Manafort also pleaded not guilty to the latest indictment yesterday. Mr Kilimnik, who prosecutors say is living in Russia, did not appear in court.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has said that Mr Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence agencies, a claim he has previously denied.

Mr Manafort will remain in jail while he awaits trial in both Washington and Virginia over the next few months.

He faces several felony charges - including tax evasion, bank fraud, money-laundering conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent - related to his Ukrainian political work, money he funnelled through offshore accounts and loans he took out on property in the US.

Irish Independent

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