Special counsel Robert Mueller filed a new indictment Friday against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, charging him and a Russian associate with obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to tamper with witnesses.
The grand jury action against Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, who law enforcement officials have said is associated with Russian intelligence, marks the latest tightening of the screws by Mueller. Prosecutors previously raised the witness tampering claims in a motion to revoke Manafort’s bail
Manafort was arrested in October, along with business partner Rick Gates, on charges that stemmed from their lobbying work in Ukraine, including conspiracy, money laundering, and failure to disclose overseas bank accounts.
The alleged crimes are not linked to Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, although they arose from that probe.
Earlier this week a judge ordered Manafort to respond to allegations of witness tampering when prosecutors first raised them and sought to have Manafort’s bail revoked. Those same allegations are behind the superseding indictment unsealed Friday in court.
Manafort responded Friday to the allegations he tampered with witnesses in a filing made by his attorney, which calls Mueller’s accusations and filings “heavy-handed gamesmanship by the Special Counsel” that a judge should not condone.
Attorney Kevin Downing wrote in the filing that the allegations are based on “the thinnest of evidence.” He says a few texts messages and an 84-second phone call with two former associates provide “scant” evidence of tampering.
Downing also argued that Manafort doesn’t know who will be called at trial, and therefore questions how his client would know that reaching out to two former colleagues meant he was reaching out to two witnesses. The attorney pointed out that prosecutors telling the court that Manafort was using encrypted applications implies he was conducting illegal activity — calling it a “not-too-subtle attempt to poison the potential jury pool” against Manafort.