- Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign, has been accused of attempting to tamper with witness testimony.
- If the special counsel Robert Mueller has enough evidence to prove Manafort did what he has been accused of, there are three reasons it could strike a blow to his defense, and also spell trouble for Trump.
- A witness tampering charge, like lying to the FBI, can be used as evidence to show a guilty mind and may be “enticing to a jury,” said one former federal prosecutor.
- If a judge believes Manafort sought to hamper the criminal trial, they are less likely to side with the defense during potentially close calls in a hearing, which could prove disastrous for Manafort.
- And if a court revokes or restricts Manafort’s bail agreement in light of a witness tampering charge, it ramps up the pressure on him to cooperate — which also spells trouble for Trump.
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Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign, has been trying to meet the terms of his $10 million bail agreement since he was first indicted by the special counsel Robert Mueller last October.
And he seemed close to making it until Mueller’s office accused him on Monday of attempting to influence witness testimony as part of the Russia investigation. The special counsel subsequently asked a court to revoke or revise Manafort’s conditions of release.
According to a new court filing, which cites FBI agent Brock Domin, Manafort and his associate, denoted in the document as “Person A,” reached out to two witnesses associated with Manafort’s past lobbying activities in an apparent attempt to coach their stories.
The revelation is a big deal — and bad news — for Manafort for three reasons.
For one, prosecutors are likely to introduce evidence of witness tampering at Manafort’s upcoming trial to show consciousness of guilt, or a guilty mind.
In that sense, a witness tampering charge is similar to a charge of lying to the FBI and can be “enticing to a jury,” said Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Justice Department.
Moreover, judges tend to view witness tampering as a serious offense because it goes to the integrity of the justice system. If prosecutors introduce the charge at Manafort’s trial, “it will change the feel of the case with respect to the judge,” said Alex Whiting, a former assistant US attorney from Boston and Washington, DC who is now a professor at Harvard Law School.
If the judge believes Manafort attempted to interfere with witnesses, they will likely be less lenient toward the defense team, particularly when it comes to potentially close calls in a criminal trial, Whiting added, which could prove disastrous for the former Trump campaign chairman.
And last, if the court grants Mueller’s request to revoke or further restrict Manafort’s bail agreement, it could significantly increase the pressure on Manafort to cooperate with the special counsel.
Mueller’s office has charged Manafort with five counts in Washington, DC and 18 counts in Virginia related to tax and bank fraud, money laundering, and failure to register as a foreign agent. The majority of the charges against him are tied to Manafort’s lobbying activities for the Ukrainian government.
Manafort, 69, could potentially be in prison for the rest of his life if he is convicted in the Russia investigation.
“He is not a guy who will do well in cell block D,” Cramer said.
A plea deal between the former campaign chairman and the special counsel could also spell trouble for Trump, who has sought to distance himself and the campaign from Manafort since he was first indicted last October.
Manafort has a long history of murky financial dealings and ties to pro-Russian interests and allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was millions of dollars in debt when he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016, and prosecutors are probing whether he sought to use his role during the campaign to influence Trump’s platform on Russia.
Moreover, Manafort and his longtime associate, Rick Gates, were both influential figures on the campaign at key points during the 2016 election, including, among other things:
- When the GOP softened the language of an amendment to its platform that sought to strengthen the US’s military support for Ukraine against Russia.
- When the radical pro-transparency group WikiLeaks published its first batch of hacked Democratic National Committee emails.
- When senior members of the Trump campaign, including Manafort, met with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower who was offering dirt on then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Gates pleaded guilty in February to two counts of conspiracy and making false statements to the FBI.
Manafort has pushed back aggressively against prosecutors. But if Mueller “can persuade the judge that Manafort has in fact been attempting to tamper with witnesses, that will be a significant blow to Manafort’s defense going forward,” Whiting said.