Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is behind bars, awaiting two trials on multiple charges.
A federal judge revoked Manafort’s bail following the revelation that he contacted a pair of witnesses in his case and suggested what they should say under oath. Until the witness-tampering felony charges surfaced, Manafort was free on a $10 million bail, though he was under house arrest and fitted with a pair of tracking devices.
The original indictments against the president's associate, filed by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, involved money laundering, bank fraud, tax evasion, false statements and other alleged crimes.
During a hearing last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson explained that she was revoking Manafort's bail because “this is not middle school; I can’t take away his cellphone.” She stressed that “this hearing is not about politics, it is not about the conduct of the special counsel, it is about the defendant’s conduct.”
The judge pointed out that the witness tampering was not the first time she had questioned Manafort's behavior while he was under house arrest. He previously contacted members of the news media, a violation of the terms of his parole.
Trump rose to the defense of the man who ran his campaign until August 2016. “Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort, who has represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other top political people and campaigns,” the president tweeted. “Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the Mob. What about Comey and Crooked Hillary and all of the others? Very unfair!”
The comments prompted suggestions that Trump might pardon Manafort, a power he has used to exonerate former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, Vice President Dick Cheney adviser “Scooter” Libby, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, celebrity Martha Stewart, the deceased boxer Jack Johnson, drug offender Alice Marie Johnson and others. When asked whether he might do the same favor for Manafort, the president replied: “I don’t want to talk about that. No, I don’t want to talk about that. But look, I do want to see people treated fairly.”
Mueller, who is investigating Russian election tampering, accuses Manafort of pressuring the witnesses to testify that the defendant did not lobby in the United States on behalf of former Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort purportedly used encrypted phone messages to contact the witnesses, who worked for the Hapsburg Group public-relations firm that he employed in 2012-13. He reportedly enlisted Russian-Ukranian political consultant Konstantin Kilimnik as an intermediary for the communications.
Yanukovych, who is closely linked to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, hired Manafort as a consultant while serving as president of Ukraine. The American allegedly opened foreign banks to hide some of the $30 million he made during nine years working for the oligarch and his political party.
Manafort is accused of diverting more than $18 million to purchase real estate, clothing, and expensive rugs. Prosecutors contend that he also broke the law by failing to report his lobbying activities to the Justice Department, and lying to federal investigators.
Though none of the charges directly implicate Trump or his campaign, Manafort is believed to be under pressure from Mueller to testify in the Russian election-meddling inquiry. “Flipping” on the president and his campaign staff could save Manafort from having to serve many years in prison.
The special counsel is looking into whether Trump or any of his associates colluded with the Kremlin to influence the outcome of the 2016 race for the White House. The president continues to insist that there was “no collusion.” He has frequently described Mueller's probe as a “witch hunt.”
Many of Trump's supporters in Congress agree that the investigation is biased. As evidence, they cite Peter Strzok, an FBI agent who was a member of the special counsel's team until the disclosure of emails in which he criticized Trump.
Strzok has offered to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, as well as at any other hearing on Capitol Hill related to the Trump-Russia story. The agent's lawyer, Aitan Goelman, told The Washington Post that his client “wants the chance to clear his name and tell his story (because) he thinks that his position, character and actions have all been misrepresented and caricatured, and he wants an opportunity to remedy that.”
Trump reacted to the offer to testify by asking on Twitter: "Why was the FBI’s sick loser, Peter Strzok, working on the totally discredited Mueller team of 13 Angry & Conflicted Democrats, when Strzok was giving Crooked Hillary a free pass yet telling his lover, lawyer Lisa Page, that 'we’ll stop' Trump from becoming President?”
Many sources refute the president's claim that all the investigators are Democrats. Mueller, a Republican, has indicted four members of the Trump campaign: Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Manafort assistant Richard Gates and campaign aide George Papadopoulos.