Washington (AFP) – A US federal judge sent Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, to jail on Friday ahead of his trial on money laundering, tax and bank fraud charges.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson revoked Manafort’s bail over claims he was tampering with witnesses in the case against him brought by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 election campaign and Russia.
Manafort, 69, had been under house detention while awaiting trial later this year in Washington and in Virginia.
“You have abused the trust placed in you six months ago,” The Washington Post quoted Jackson as telling Manafort. “The government motion will be granted and the defendant will be detained.”
Manafort is the first former member of Trump’s presidential campaign to be jailed in connection with the Mueller investigation.
Mueller filed new obstruction of justice charges last week against Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty to the multiple counts against him.
The new indictment came four days after prosecutors said Manafort had tried to contact two witnesses in his money laundering and bank fraud case via Russian fixer Konstantin Kilimnik to persuade them to make certain representations to investigators.
Kilimnik, a former army-trained linguist with alleged ties to Russian intelligence, was included in an updated indictment of Manafort that accused both of witness tampering.
It took the number of people indicted by the 13-month-old investigation by Mueller to 20, with three companies also facing charges.
– ‘A lot of it is very unfair –
Trump has denounced the Mueller probe as a political “witch hunt” and denied there was any collusion with Russia by members of his election campaign.
Trump sought Friday to play down Manafort’s influence.
“Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “He worked for me, what, for 49 days or something?”
“I feel badly about a lot of them because I think a lot of it is very unfair,” he said. “They went back 12 years to get things that (Manafort) did 12 years ago.”
The Manafort case focuses on his work between 2004 and 2014 in Ukraine for pro-Russia politicians including former Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych.
Kilimnik worked with Manafort in Ukraine during that time, and during the 2016 election they were reportedly in regular contact.
According to a Washington court filing earlier this week, Manafort contacted Kilimnik recently to get his help to influence two unnamed people — said to be European-based public relations consultants — in their testimony to Mueller on the so-called Hapsburg Group.
The Hapsburg Group were onetime European politicians Manafort allegedly secretly paid more than two million euros ($2.5 million) to lobby for Yanukovych in 2012-2013. The group included one unidentified former European chancellor.