Judge Jails Ex-Trump Campaign Chair Manafort
U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sent to jail on Friday after a federal grand jury indicted him on charges of tampering with potential witnesses while free on bail.
Manafort, 69, the first former Trump associate to go to prison, was indicted last week on two new counts of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice in connection with attempting in recent months to influence the testimony of two unidentified cooperating witnesses.
Manafort pleaded not guilty to the new charges Friday morning.
But federal district judge Amy Berman Jackson, citing the witness tampering allegations, ordered him to be held in jail pending his trial in September, approving a motion by special counsel Robert Mueller to revoke his bail.
In a message posted to Twitter, Trump said it was “very unfair” to imprison his former campaign chairman.
“Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort, who has represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other top political people and campaigns,” Trump wrote. “Didn't know Manafort was the head of the Mob. What about Comey and Crooked Hillary and all of the others? Very unfair!”
Trump has previously sought to distance himself from Manafort, saying in February that the veteran Republican political consultant and lobbyist “worked for me for a very short period of time.”
Manafort headed Trump’s presidential campaign from June to August 2016 when he was let go following revelations that he had received off-the-book payments from a pro-Russian political Ukrainian party.
Last October, a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., indicted Manafort and a former business associate Rick Gates on charges of money laundering and failure to register as foreign agents in connection with their lobbying for the Party of Regions and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Gates pleaded guilty in February and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel. But Manafort stuck to his guns and vowed to fight the indictment only to be hit by new charges.
In March, he was indicted by federal a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, on charges of bank fraud and filing false tax returns. Then last Friday, just days after the special counsel accused Manafort of witness tampering, he was charged in Washington, D.C., with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
The new superseding indictment accused Manafort and a business associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, 48, of “repeatedly” contacting two unidentified people in an effort to sway their testimony. The contacts took place between February and April of this year.
According to prosecutors, the two potential witnesses worked with Manafort in enlisting a group of former European officials to lobby both in Europe and the United States on behalf of Ukraine’s former government. The two people told investigators that Manafort and Kilimnik had recently tried to get them to claim that the Hapsburg Group lobbying effort focused only on Europe.
WATCH: Trump on Manafort's legal woes
Trump on Manafort's Legal Woes
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Defense lawyers, saying Manafort was unaware the two people were potential witnesses, painted the contacts as innocuous. Richard Westling, one of Manafort’s defense lawyers, said the government “continued to expand the case,” leaving Manafort in a position of not knowing if the people he was contacting were witnesses.
“A clear no-contact role will solve the problem,” Westling said. “He can be put in a position where conditions can be met.”
But prosecutors argued that given Manafort’s “history of deception” a no-contact list would serve as no guarantee that Manafort “won’t do it again.”
“There is nothing on the record of this court that assures that Mr. Manafort will abide by conditions” of pre-trial release, prosecutor Greg Andres said.
In December, prosecutors accused Manafort of violating a gag order by ghostwriting a sympathetic op-ed piece for an Ukrainian newspaper. Jackson, the judge, rebuked Manafort over the incident.
Jackson said she “struggled” with the decision to jail Manafort, but she said that “given the number, persistence and obvious intent” of Manafort's contacts with the witnesses, she could not keep him free on bail.
“You have abused the trust placed in you six months ago,” Jackson said.