Paul Manafort Slated To Appear In Court Over New Allegations
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The pressure is growing on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Special counsel Robert Mueller accuses Manafort of committing another federal crime, witness tampering, while he's out on bail. And a judge has scheduled a hearing to consider whether Manafort should be locked up while he waits for his trial. NPR's national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson joins us from NPR West in Culver City to talk more about these developments. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Paul Manafort was already facing tax and money laundering charges. Tell us about these new accusations where the government says he has crossed the line again.
JOHNSON: In a motion last night, the special counsel says Manafort attempted to tamper with witnesses in February. That's after the government added extra charges against him in a superseding indictment. In an affidavit, an FBI agent says Manafort and an associate reached out to possible witnesses by phone in an encrypted app called WhatsApp. One of those witnesses told the FBI Manafort was apparently trying to suborn perjury.
SHAPIRO: Tell us how that fits into the accusations that were already made against Manafort in the initial charges against him.
JOHNSON: The heart of the case against Manafort revolves around his business and lobbying relationships with the pro-Russia government in Ukraine. Authorities say he didn't disclose money, laundered $18 million to buy expensive suits, rugs and real estate. Now, the government says Manafort was trying to get people to lie about whether they worked on Ukraine lobbying here inside the United States, and it's a crime to do that work and not register here as a foreign agent. So that would be breaking the law.
SHAPIRO: It sounds like what was already a serious situation for Manafort has gotten worse. What is he saying to defend himself?
JOHNSON: In a statement today, Paul Manafort's spokesman, Jason Maloni, said Manafort's innocent. Nothing about this latest allegation changes our defense, and we're going to do our talking in court, he said. Now the judge has ordered him to file a motion in court or file a response in court by Friday. Paul Manafort of course is fighting other charges in D.C. and Virginia with two trials coming up this summer and autumn.
SHAPIRO: But before those trials in summer and autumn, there's a question of whether a judge is going to force him to spend the months leading up to that in prison or in jail. When does that get decided?
JOHNSON: Yeah. A federal judge in D.C., Amy Berman Jackson, has announced a hearing for next Friday, June 15. The judge could decide to tighten up his release conditions or revoke Paul Manafort's bail altogether. That could mean, as you said, he would be locked up waiting for trial. Former federal public defender Barry Boss told me today there's a possibility Manafort could be locked up in the D.C. jail. The Marshals Service does have contracts with other facilities nearby, but they're far from the luxury that Paul Manafort, a master lobbyist, is used to enjoying.
The big question here, the heart of all this, Ari - will any of that change his mind? If Paul Manafort is indeed revoked on his bail and he is incarcerated pending trial, will he agree to cooperate with prosecutors investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election? Does he have information that they want to try to get to the heart of that matter? We don't know yet, but a lot is coming in the next weeks.
SHAPIRO: And is that door closing for Manafort? Could he decide at any point to cooperate, or is there a point at which Mueller has enough cooperating witnesses, the prosecution against Manafort is far enough along that it's just too late?
JOHNSON: Well, it seems to me that Paul Manafort has already been facing a virtual life sentence. He's in his late-60s, and he's under a lot of pressure. Members of his family are under a lot of pressure, financial and legal. It's a mystery to some people why he hasn't cooperated so far and flipped. The jail may send a message if he goes there.
SHAPIRO: NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, thank you so much.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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