Paul Manafort wasn’t tampering with witnesses when he contacted former colleagues about the pending case against him because he couldn’t have possibly known who was going to be called to testify.
That’s the former Trump campaign manager’s defense against special counsel Robert Mueller’s argument that Manafort called and messaged two of his old associates to get them to lie about his work overseas. In addition to charges of illegal foreign lobbying, bank fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion previously filed, Mueller also slapped Manafort with obstruction of justice on Friday. In a filing late in the day, however, Manafort’s lawyer argues that his client, legally, did nothing wrong.
“The special counsel’s disagreement with Mr. Manafort’s view of this case … does not make it a crime for Mr. Manafort to communicate his view to others, especially when he is not aware of who the Special Counsel may view as witnesses,” the court document reads.
Originally, Manafort was allowed to await the start of his trial in September at home. But now, Mueller is asking a federal judge to send him to jail until then on the grounds that he violated the terms of his release by tampering with witnesses. In total, he’s facing life in prison.
In the filing, however, Manafort’s lawyer argues that the terms of his release don’t require his client to “stay away” from or “not contact” anyone.
Mueller charged Manafort with organizing a lobbying scheme for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine in both Europe and the U.S., which he financed with offshore funds. Anyone doing political work in the U.S. on behalf of foreign governments is required to register with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. Manafort didn’t.
Then, in February and April, Manafort and his business partner Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian born in the then-Soviet Union, sent 16 messages and placed five calls to their former colleagues, who would eventually become witnesses in Manafort’s case.
Manafort and Kilimnik, who’s also facing obstruction charges, wanted their old associates to lie to officials that Manafort’s lobbying work for the Ukrainian government took place in Europe alone, according to the special counsel’s office. That would mean Manfort didn’t need to register as a foreign agent. Their colleagues, however, eventually spoke to Mueller’s office and revealed that Manafort and Kilimnik contacted them.
“We should talk. I have made clear that they worked in Europe,” Manafort WhatsApped one of his former colleagues three days after more charges against him were filed in February.
“Basically, P [Manafort] wants to give him a quick summary that he says to everybody (which is true) that our friends never lobbied in the U.S., and the purpose of the program was EU,” Kilimnik Whatsapped another colleague two days later.
Next Thursday, federal judge Amy Berman Jackson will hear from both Manafort and Mueller’s teams at a hearing to decide whether Manafort should remain at home until his trial. And she’s already expressed frustration in recent months with Manafort’s attempts to expand his travel privileges.
Read Manafort's full defense motion below.
Cover image: Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena, Sunday, July 17, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)