Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman facing multiple criminal charges, allegedly contacted witnesses in an attempt to influence their testimony.
According to the FBI, Manafort violated the terms of his pre-trial release. Federal attorneys are urging a judge to either amend the terms or jail the defendant, who is accused of tax evasion and money laundering. Manafort reportedly diverted more than $18 million to buy property, clothing, and rugs.
None of the charges are connected to the Trump campaign, although Manafort's links to Russia are of interest to Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating whether the campaign colluded with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 presidential election.
The indictments stem from Manafort's former work as a lobbyist for a Ukrainian political party aligned with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Manafort allegedly opened bank accounts in other countries to conceal his earnings. In a separate case, he is charged with giving false information to banks to obtain loans totalling millions of dollars.
While under house arrest, on a $10 million bond, Manafort reportedly used an encrypted messaging system to contact two unidentified witnesses through a third party. Prosecutors maintain that the phone calls were an attempt to “suborn perjury.” The witnesses are expected to offer testimony concerning Manafort's recruitment of former European government officials to lobby on behalf of Ukraine. Court filings reveal that the officials, identified as the Hapsburg Group, received 2 million euros from Manafort in 2012 and 2013.
Prosecutors say Manafort asked the witnesses to claim that their advocacy efforts took place in Europe, not the United States. However, according to the court records, he “secretly retained” the group “to take positions favorable to Ukraine, including by lobbying in the United States.”
The former campaign chairman may be under pressure to “flip” on the president by working with prosecutors in the Russian election-meddling probe. It might save him from being sentenced to decades in prison. Trump has been downplaying the extent of his relationship with Manafort, pointing out that they worked together on the campaign for only a few months. One of the president's attorneys has suggested that Trump might pardon his former associate.
Trump, who has repeatedly declared that there was “no collusion,” describes Mueller's investigation as a “witch hunt.” He and his lawyers are calling on the special counsel to “wrap up” the inquiry soon. One of the attorneys, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, has argued that the Constitution does not allow a federal prosecutor to subpoena the president for an interview under oath.
Trump recently floated the possibility that he might pardon himself, though he insists he has not committed any crimes. Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor who supported Trump's candidacy, predicted that the president “will get impeached” if he gives himself a pardon.
Richard Painter, the White House ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, also refuted Trump's claim that he has the “absolute right” to clear himself of any charges. “Trump cannot pardon himself,” Painter tweeted. “The fact that he says he can pardon himself is yet more evidence that he is unfit for office. Congress must begin the process of impeachment now.”
During an interview on CBS News, Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas warned that a self-pardon “would be a terrible move” likely to result in widespread “outrage.” He explained: “I think people would erupt. I think even thinking about trying to fire Mueller is a bad move politically. So I hope we don't have to get to that point.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told CNN that he does “not think a president should pardon themselves.” However, the California Republican defended Trump's use of his pardon power on behalf of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio; “Scooter” Libby, an adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich; the late boxer Jack Johnson; and celebrity Martha Stewart.
Corey Lewandowski, who also served a stint as Trump's campaign manager before being forced to step down for allegedly assaulting a reporter, is among those suggesting that Manafort will be the next person to receive a pardon.
Many observers, including former Trump associate Roger Stone and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, believe Trump has been issuing the pardons to assure others that they have his support. The president reportedly is worried that his longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, will flip on him. The prospect of a possible pardon might deter Cohen from telling prosecutors what he knows about Trump's past business dealings, including the payment of “hush money” to porn star Stormy Daniels and other women.
If Mueller “indicts people for crimes that don’t pertain to Russian collusion, (pardons) could happen,” Stone told The Washington Post. “The special counsel has awesome powers, as you know, but the president has even more awesome powers.”