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Trump ex-campaign manager Manafort jailed pending trial

Brendan Smialowski, AFP | Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing at US District Court on June 15 in Washington, DC.

President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort was ordered into custody Friday after a federal judge revoked his house arrest, citing new obstruction of justice charges filed by special counsel Robert Mueller.


The decision by US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson came after prosecutors accused Manafort and a longtime associate of witness tampering.

Manafort is the first Trump campaign official to be jailed as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. His attorneys have argued that Manafort didn't do anything wrong and have accused prosecutors of conjuring a "sinister plot" out of "innocuous" contacts with witnesses.

Manafort will remain in jail while he awaits two trials in the next few months. He faces several felony charges related to his Ukrainian political work and money he funneled through offshore accounts. That trial is scheduled for September. A trial on bank fraud and tax evasion charges in Virginia is set for July.

Prosecutors have said Manafort has ties to Russian intelligence. He was also among the participants in a June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-linked lawyer that raised suspicions of collusion between the campaign and Moscow.

Since Manafort was first indicted on 12 counts including conspiracy last October, he has remained on home confinement, required to wear an electronic-monitoring device.

>> Trump's troika: Manafort, Page, Stone and the rush to Congress

Special counsel Mueller last week brought new obstruction charges against Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik. The new indictment charges both men with obstruction and conspiracy to obstruct justice related to contacts they had with two witnesses earlier this year. The witnesses, who had worked with Manafort as he represented a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, have told the FBI that they believed Manafort and Kilimnik were trying to get them to lie about the nature of their work.

Judge Jackson previously gave Manafort a pass after federal agents found he had ghostwritten an opinion piece in Ukraine even though he was under a gag order in the case. Kilimnik was also involved in that incident. In the latest charges, prosecutors say the contacts with the witnesses via phone and encrypted messaging applications first occurred in February, shortly after Manafort's co-defendant, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Kilimnik also reached out to witnesses in April.

The charges do not relate to Manafort's work on the Trump campaign or involve the allegations of Russian election interference.

Mueller vs Manafort

But the latest charges increase Manafort's legal jeopardy as he continues an aggressive battle with prosecutors and could be an effort by Mueller to induce a guilty plea and secure the testimony of a critical Trump confidant. They mark the second time since his October indictment that Manafort has faced additional criminal charges.

Through his spokesman Jason Maloni, Manafort, 69, has maintained his innocence.

Kilimnik, 48, has previously declined to comment on the allegations and denied being connected to Russian intelligence agencies. Prosecutors say Kilimnik lives in Moscow and is not in custody.

>> Trump and Russia: What is the Manafort connection?

Court papers show the witnesses told investigators they believed Manafort and Kilimnik were trying to get them to lie about their work with a group of former European politicians known as the Hapsburg group.

The Hapsburg group's work is one of several operations prosecutors say Manafort directed as part of a covert lobbying campaign on behalf of Ukraine, its then president Viktor Yanukovich, and the pro-Russian Party of Regions. The work is the basis for the criminal case in Washington where Manafort faces charges of acting as an unregistered foreign agent, money-laundering conspiracy and false statements.

According to the witnesses, Manafort and Kilimnik appeared to be pressuring them to say the Hapsburg group only worked in Europe, when they knew that they had been secretly paid to lobby in the US. Several of the politicians involved have denied any wrongdoing.

A close protégé who worked alongside Manafort for years in Ukraine, Kilimnik is the 20th person charged so far in Mueller's investigation. Others include 13 Russians accused in a hidden social media effort to sway public opinion, former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.

Kilimnik has also drawn the scrutiny of congressional committees investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Emails show that during the middle of the campaign, Manafort told Kilimnik he was willing to provide "private briefings" about Trump's presidential run to a billionaire close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The July 2016 offer referred to Oleg Deripaska, who has accused Manafort of defrauding him as part of a multimillion dollar deal several years ago.

Through a spokesman, Manafort has confirmed the authenticity of the emails but said no briefings occurred.

Trump has dismissed any talk of pardoning Manafort or Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who is also under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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