Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort has been accused of tampering with potential witnesses by the special counsel team headed by Robert Mueller. He is presently on bail ahead of his federal bank fraud and tax case.
The consensus amongst the intelligence community in the US is that members of the Russian government interfered with the US elections to destabilize the presidential bid of former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. It has also been reported that the Russian government tried to disrupt Clinton’s campaign through cyber-attacks and email leaks and largely favoured Donald Trump over her.
In the past few months, the special counsel has brought charges against multiple people within the Trump campaign. Former Chairmen of the Trump presidential campaign, Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates have been indicted on 12 counts including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money and false statements. Manafort is now suing the Department of Justice in an attempt to foil the inquiry. Rick Gates has since pleaded guilty for making false statements to the FBI. Charges against Manafort includes conspiracy to launder $75 million through offshore accounts, conspiracy against the United States, and false statements. The two men were accused of lobbying for a foreign Government, Ukraine, illegally.
In addition, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has also pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about meetings with Russia's ambassador right before Donald Trump became President. Sam Nunberg is a former political advisor to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Trump campaign. He has been subpoenaed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Paul Manafort is a political consultant and lobbyist who joined the Trump Presidential campaign in March 2016. In August 2016, reports noted that Manafort had ties to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions. It was also alleged that he may have illegally received $12.7 million off the books. He left the campaign shortly thereafter. In 2017, the FBI conducted a pre-dawn raid on Paul Manafort’s residence.
Over the course of the investigation, Mueller has indicted 13 Russians. He has also brought charges against four former Trump aides. Three of them have already entered plea deals and experts note that this suggests that they are cooperating with the investigation as it moves forward.
The special counsel team is now accusing Manafort of trying to tamper with potential witnesses in the ongoing investigation. It should be noted that Manafort, who is on house arrest has pleaded not guilty on all charges. A court filing has been made by the special counsel team and it notes that Manafort had called and messaged one of the witnesses on 24 February 2018. It was the day after his longtime associate and a former Trump campaign official (Rick Gates) entered guilty pleas to conspiracy and lying to the FBI.
FBI agent Brock Domin wrote in court documents that Manafort had “contacted and attempted to contact” two unnamed witnesses, “in an effort to influence their testimony and to otherwise conceal evidence”. He added: “The investigation into this matter is ongoing.”
Trump has long dismissed the ongoing investigation as nothing more than political “witch hunt.” However, recently Trump and one of his attorneys, Rudy Giuliani, have argued that the president has expansive pardon powers. This has caused concern among even Republican lawmakers in Washington as they argue it would be an extraordinary abuse of power to pardon oneself. President Trump in the recent weeks has escalated his verbal attacks on the special counsel team and noted that the investigation is unconstitutional. He has also accused the team of being “Democrats.” Mueller is a registered Republican.
Our assessment is that the latest development should be a cause of concern not only for Paul Manafort but also President Trump. Even though Trump has dismissed the investigation as a ‘witch hunt’, it is clear that he is worried as he broached the idea of Presidential pardons. Manafort and Gates played a central role in Trump’s election campaign and thus provide a direct connection to the presidency. We believe that that Muller will attempt to use Manafort in the investigation against Trump’s inner circle, particularly his son-in-law Jared Kushner.