Manafort develops yet another Mueller problem

Paul Manafort has been out of jail (though under limited house arrest) while awaiting trial. That may be coming to an end if prosecutors can prove their latest allegation against him which is really quite a doozy. Manafort allegedly began attempting to contact witnesses in his case as soon as he was sent off to house arrest. That’s a tremendous breach of protocol and casts a pall on the trial proceedings, at least giving the appearance of trying to rig the game in his favor. It also puts the witnesses in legal peril if they are found to be going along with the plan. This may wind up with Manafort losing his phone and messaging privileges by way of heading back to a prison cell. (NY Post)

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort made several attempts to tamper with witnesses in his ongoing criminal cases, prosecutors said Monday as they asked a federal judge to consider revoking his house arrest.

In a court filing, prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller wrote that Manafort and one of his associates “repeatedly” contacted two witnesses in an effort to influence their testimony. The contacts occurred earlier this year, shortly after a grand jury returned a new indictment against Manafort and while he was confined to his home.

Court documents do not name Manafort’s associate, but they refer to him as “Person A” and note the pseudonym is consistent with previous filings in the case. In earlier filings, Person A has referred to Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime Manafort associate who prosecutors have said has ties to Russian intelligence.

If these stories prove to be accurate, Manafort was making calls and sending text messages using an encrypted application on his phone. This immediately raises a couple of questions. Manafort isn’t just a political circus guy. He’s a lawyer with a law degree from Georgetown. Is it even conceivable that he didn’t know that he wasn’t supposed to be talking to witnesses or potential witnesses under these circumstances? If so, the phrase “gross incompetence and negligence” comes to mind.

Even if we assume that he knew he wasn’t supposed to be doing it, the guy was under house arrest. The fact that the government had been monitoring him was no longer a secret. What person with any experience in the law wouldn’t suspect that the feds were tapping his phone and tracing all of his communications while awaiting trial? Either he’s more suited to lead the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight or there’s more to this story.

I’m not really leaning one way or the other on that choice. Much of this allegedly happened in the early days after he was remanded to house arrest. Perhaps he was in a panic and not thinking clearly? Or maybe he was taking a chance and thinking they didn’t have him set up for surveillance yet. Both would look like rookie mistakes in retrospect, but they at least become a bit more understandable. But this also represents yet another charge (and an extremely serious one at that) which could be leveled at Manafort at trial. Witness tampering can put you away for a long time. And now the next set of inevitable questions will be raised as to whether or not there’s a pardon on the way from President Trump. If so, the game becomes exponentially more complicated.

In any event, if Manafort has to spend the rest of his time awaiting trial in a jail cell he’ll have a lot more free time on his hands. Hopefully, they’ll have a library with some legal texts he can browse and brush up on while he waits.