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Special Counsel Accuses Trump Ex-Campaign Chief Of Witness Tampering


U.S. President Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort

Robert Mueller, the U.S. special counsel investigating alleged Russian election interference, has levied new charges against President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, saying he attempted to tamper with witnesses.

Mueller said in a court filing late on June 4 that Paul Manafort, while out on bail awaiting trial, "repeatedly" attempted to communicate with two people from the "Hapsburg Group," a firm he worked with prior to 2014 to promote the interests of former pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

The court filing said the FBI had documents, statements, and telephone records showing that he attempted communication with the potential witnesses in February in violation of the terms of his release on bail.

Mueller cited the alleged witness tampering in asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to revoke or revise the order releasing Manafort ahead of his trial. Manafort was released to home confinement after his arraignment in October 2017.

Manafort has been charged with allegations ranging from money-laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent to bank and tax fraud. He has pleaded not guilty.

Manafort is the most senior member of Trump's campaign to be indicted, though none of the charges against him to date relate to his activities during his brief stint as Trump's campaign chairman in mid-2016.

A number of the charges relate to his work on behalf of Yanukovych, who was ousted from power by street protests in 2014 and now lives in exile in Russia.

In an indictment earlier this year, Mueller charged that Manafort secretly enlisted unnamed "former senior European politicians" in 2012 and 2013 to lobby in Washington and in Europe on behalf of Yanukovych's government.

The former politicians, who were paid more than 2 million euros ($2.3 million) for their work, did not disclose they were being paid for lobbying, as required by U.S. law, Mueller's office charged.

"The plan was for the former politicians, informally called the 'Hapsburg Group,' to appear to be providing their independent assessments of government of Ukraine actions, when in fact they were paid lobbyists for Ukraine," according to the indictment.

In the June 4 court filing alleging Manafort attempted to tamper with potential Hapsburg witnesses, Manafort was quoted as saying in one call that he wanted to give the witness a "heads-up about Hapsburg," prompting the witness to hang up "because he was concerned about the outreach," according to a sworn affidavit filed by an FBI agent in the case.

On February 26, Manafort sent the same person a series of messages through an encrypted application, including a link to a Business Insider story with the headline: "Former European leaders struggle to explain themselves after Mueller claims Paul Manafort paid them to lobby for Ukraine."

Another message said: "We should talk. I have made clear that they worked in Europe."

The witness told investigators that he interpreted Manafort's efforts to reach him as a way to influence his potential statements. The witness said that the Hapsburg Group had lobbied in the United States, not just in Europe, and Manafort knew that, FBI Special Agent Brock Domin wrote in an affadavit.

Domin concluded that Manafort's communications were "an effort to influence their testimony and to otherwise conceal evidence," and added that "the investigation into this matter is ongoing."

In light of the new allegations of witness tampering, Mueller urged Judge Amy Berman Jackson to "promptly" schedule a hearing on the whether to change Manafort's conditions of release, which could result in Manafort going to jail.

His trial in Washington is set to start on September 17.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters
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