Just days after President Donald Trump was seen as sending a message to Mueller targets that he could still help them with pardons, Special Counsel Bob Mueller could be sending a message of his own: your future may belong to the President but your present belongs to me. In a major move, Mueller has accused Paul Manafort of witness tampering and is seeking his possible jailing in an adjustment of his pre-trial status. For someone like Manafort, jail can be a panic-inducing element in an already nightmarish case. The motion seeks to “revoke or revise” his current status of home confinement before trial.
Manafort is facing two trials in two different jurisdictions in Washington and Virginia. The Virginia case focuses on bank fraud and tax evasion charges in Virginia. The allegations are more relevant to the Washington proceedings but both judges were informed of the allegations against him. He is accused of violating 18 USC 1512 by attempting to tamper with potential witnesses while on pretrial release. Here is the relevant section:
(1) influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding;
2) cause or induce any person to—(A) withhold testimony, or withhold a record, document, or other object, from an official proceeding; (B) alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal an object with intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding; (C) evade legal process summoning that person to appear as a witness, or to produce a record, document, or other object, in an official proceeding; or (D) be absent from an official proceeding to which such person has been summoned by legal process . . .
Beyond denying the truth of an allegation, a defendant does have a statutory defense:
(e) In a prosecution for an offense under this section, it is an affirmative defense, as to which the defendant has the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence, that the conduct consisted solely of lawful conduct and that the defendant’s sole intention was to encourage, induce, or cause the other person to testify truthfully.
The document say that Manafort tried to contact witnesses by various means, including an intermediary and through an encrypted messaging program. The messages allegedly sought to influence their accounts — an act that could easily consistent subornation.
FBI Special Agent Brock Domin declared in his statement that Manafort communicated with two people from “The Hapsburg Group,” a firm working for Ukrainian interests.
The allegations include contacts with members of a public relations firm to help coordinate accounts. This statement from a witness stood out: “They should say their lobbying and public relations work was exclusively in Europe.” If true, that type of steering would be a very serious matter for a defendant allowed to remain under house arrest.
It would be a moronic act of galactic proportions. However, Manafort has long had a reputation for incautious and questionable tactics. Indeed, the indictment documents his array of questionable clients and activities.
The biggest danger for the Trump team would be the jailing of Manafort, who is already under considerable pressure to cooperate. From the unnecessary no-knock raid on his home to this filing, they are continuing to squeeze Manafort. The timing is notable. While the Trump is offering the prospect of a pardon, Mueller could be offering the certainty of jail.
Here is the filing in the federal court in Washington, D.C.