The Slatest

Mueller Court Motion Says There’s Probable Cause Paul Manafort Engaged in Felony Witness Tampering Ahead of Trial

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing on May 23, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing on May 23, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Paul Manafort cannot stop breaking the law and that means he may be going to jail much sooner than expected. On Monday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller asked the federal judge overseeing Manafort’s case to revoke or revise the court order issued following his arraignment in October that allowed him to remain a free man while preparing his defense. In the court filing, Mueller alleges there is probable cause that Manafort has been engaged in felony witness tampering, which violates the terms of his release and could land the former Trump campaign chair in jail. Manafort is set to go on trial in July on broad range of charges, including conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States and conspiracy to launder money.

The motion outlines pretty explicit attempts by Manafort to reach out to former colleagues in order to try to align their stories. Four months after Manafort’s pre-trial release was agreed to, instead diverting him into a high-intensity supervision program requiring home confinement and a $10 million bond, he was indicted on new allegations surrounding his lobbying efforts. Manafort along with a handful of co-conspirators known as the “Hapsburg” group spent years lobbying on behalf of Ukraine across Europe and in Washington.

The new superseding indictment was announced on Feb. 23rd and, according to the motion, Manafort and a longtime associate (referred to as Person A) repeatedly contacted two principals of a public-relations company (referred to as Person D1 and D2) who acted as intermediaries between Manafort, Person A, co-defendant Richard Gates, and the Hapsburg group. Manafort’s contact was allegedly part of an effort to get them to lie about the nature of Hapsburg group’s lobbying activities.

Neither D1 nor D2 had had recent contact with Manafort or his associate Person A, but after the indictment was made public, Manafort called Person D1 on Persons D1’s cell phone, the motion states. In an effort to avoid contact with Manafort, Person D1 ended the phone call. Manafort also sent an encrypted text message to Person D1 saying “This is paul.”

Manafort continued to reach out. From the motion:

Two days later, on February 26, 2018, Manafort used the same encrypted application to send Person D1 a news article describing the Superseding Indictment’s allegations concerning the Hapsburg group, which included the statement that “two European politicians were secretly paid around €2 million by Manafort in order to ‘take positions favorable to Ukraine, including by lobbying in the United States.’” One minute after sending the news article, Manafort wrote: “We should talk. I have made clear that they worked in Europe.” Toll records for one of Manafort’s phones indicate that Manafort had a short call with Person D1 on February 24, 2018, and that Manafort attempted to call Person D1 again on February 25 and 27, 2018.

The distinction Manafort appears to be making and trying to get his old gang on the same page about is that Hapsburg lobbied Europe on behalf of Ukraine, but not the U.S., a potential crime that is part of the case against Manafort. According to the motion, Person D1 “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.”

Manafort’s attempts to get their stories straight continued, according federal investigators.

In an effort to connect Manafort with Person D1, Person A reached out to Person D2, a longtime partner of Person D1. On February 28, five days after the Superseding Indictment, Person A attempted to contact Person D2 via an encrypted messaging application. Person A wrote: “My friend P is trying to reach [Person D1] to brief him on what’s going on.” Two minutes later, Person A added: “Basically P wants to give him a quick summary that he says to everybody (which is true) that our friends never lobbied in the US, and the purpose of the program was EU.” Approximately five hours later, Person A switched to another encrypted application and sent a similar series of messages to Person D2, including a message relaying Manafort’s “summary” that the Hapsburg group never lobbied in the United States.

The February 2018 messages were not Person A’s only efforts to put Manafort in contact with Persons D1 and D2. In April 2018, Person A reached out to Person D1, relaying the message: “My friend P is looking for ways to connect to you to pass you several messages. Can we arrange that.” Person A contacted Person D2 via two encrypted applications the same day, reiterating his need for help in connecting Person D1 with Manafort. Person A added in his final text to Person D2: “I tried him [i.e., Person D1] on all numbers.” 

“Like Person D1, Person D2 understood that Manafort and Person A were reaching out to him and Person D1 in an effort to influence the testimony of potential witnesses,” the motion says.

It’s hard to imagine how Manafort isn’t totally cooked. The brazenness of his attempts to coordinate testimony with his associates is beyond reckless. He did it digitally! Manafort, who is a key target in one of the most sophisticated, technology-dependent investigations in U.S. history must have known that, as of February of this year, federal investigators were likely monitoring his and others’ communications for this exact reason. Let’s not forget, Manafort is a lawyer! Now the judge will decide on how to amend the terms of Manafort’s release and he very well could end up in jail until he goes to court.