Breaking, kinda: Manafort bail revoked after witness-tampering charge

Big news, of a sort anyway, in the ongoing special-counsel prosecution of Paul Manafort. New charges filed last week in the case accused Donald Trump’s former campaign manager of tampering with witnesses in the case pending in Washington DC, which has nothing to do with the 2016 election. Judge Amy Berman revoked Manafort’s bail during the arraignment, telling Manafort that she has “no appetite” for jailing him, but “can’t turn a blind eye” to attempts to suborn perjury by the defendant:


Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office convinced a federal judge on Friday to revoke the bail of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chief after he was accused of witness tampering.

“I cannot turn a blind eye to this,” Judge Amy Berman said in a Washington courtroom, explaining that she could not just release Manafort with more restrictions.

“This isn’t middle school, I can’t take your phone,” Jackson said. …

At Friday’s hearing, the judge said she was not revoking Manafort’s bail as punishment but because his attempts to contact witnesses constituted a danger to the court’s integrity.

“I have no appetite for this,” she said.

The new charges involve contact with two of Mueller’s witnesses in his case against Manafort for failing to register as a foreign agent, a charge rarely prosecuted as a crime. The special counsel alleges that Manafort and one of his associates attempted to get the two witnesses to change their testimony to bolster Manafort’s defense case:

In a superseding indictment, the prosecutors claimed that Mr. Manafort and a close associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, had contacted the two witnesses this year, hoping to persuade them to testify that Mr. Manafort had never lobbied in the United States for Viktor F. Yanukovych, the pro-Moscow president of Ukraine who fled to Russia in 2014 after a popular uprising.

In fact, the government now claims, Mr. Manafort led a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort in Washington to present Mr. Yanukovych as a pro-Western leader who deserved political support, not sanctions for alleged abuses of power.

This week, prosecutors submitted as evidence a four-page memo that Mr. Manafort wrote to Mr. Yanukovych detailing his campaign to convince members of Congress, the State Department and the Western news media that Mr. Yanukovych, who was elected Ukraine’s president in 2010, was a champion of democratic reforms.

Mr. Manafort is charged with failing to disclose those lobbying efforts to the Justice Department, as required, and with lying to department officials who questioned him. He is also accused of laundering more than $30 million in income he received over a nine-year period for lobbying for Mr. Yanukovych and his political party and its successor.


Manafort’s attorneys claim that Mueller hasn’t provided them with a witness list so that they don’t know whom Manafort should be forbidden to contact. That didn’t convince Berman, who apparently found the allegations credible enough to revoke Manafort’s bail. That would be standard for a defendant credibly accused of witness tampering while on bail, especially since — as Berman quipped — she can’t solve the problem merely by seizing Manafort’s cell phone.

By the way, this is why attorneys advise their clients to stop talking to people when charged with crimes, especially anyone who might remotely be connected to the case. Whether or not one is guilty of the underlying crime, attempts by defendants to get people to testify in a particular manner will get them into precisely this predicament, especially when up against prosecutors with this much time and resources. Attorneys handle witness depositions, not defendants. If Manafort really did this, consider it a hard lesson learned.

That certainly qualifies as breaking news, but not really the “special report” treatment that NBC and other networks gave it. Chuck Todd and Pete Williams speculate that this could force Manafort to flip on Trump, but that’s a pretty weak speculation. First, the case has nothing to do with Trump, and second, the prosecution itself matters a lot more than the revoked bail. Manafort faces decades in federal prison, not just weeks in a lock-up.


However, the special report is still worth watching, as it covers another interesting point. While Berman’s sending Manafort to jail pending trial, Judge T.S. Ellis is overdue on a decision in northern Virginia as to whether Mueller can prosecute Manafort at all. Ellis has had “family issues” that have delayed the decision, Williams tells Todd, so Manafort awaits that decision with bated breath. It might not have an immediate impact on the case in Berman’s court, but Ellis’ decision will likely get appealed immediately, and a decision at the next level would set a precedent that Berman would be compelled to follow.

At any rate, the only thing that has changed so far is Manafort’s address.

Update: Actually, a reader reminds me of something I should have remembered — not only are the two cases in separate districts, they’re in separate appellate circuits, too. An appellate ruling in one circuit wouldn’t necessarily bind the other, although it certainly might be persuasive. Thanks to Stephen for the reminder.

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