Mueller’s stepped up pressure could land Manafort in jail by week’s end
Drew Angerer/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — After special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors and Paul Manafort meet in court on Friday, there is a chance the former Trump campaign chairman could leave in handcuffs.
Manafort’s freedom has become more precarious in the run-up to his scheduled appearance at the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Judge Amy Berman Jackson will consider whether to revise or revoke Manafort’s bail conditions – a decision that could land him behind bars pending trial.
The hearing is the latest in a series of moves by the prosecutors that applies immense pressure on the 69-year-old lobbyist and political operative, who has pleaded not guilty to a heavy raft of tax and financial crimes. The goal, his friends and legal experts tell ABC News, is to persuade him to cut a deal for lenience in exchange for testimony about others, possibly including President Donald Trump,.
“Every gram of weight that they’re putting on Paul Manafort is designed to get him to give information to hurt the president,” Michael Caputo, a longtime friend of Manafort’s told ABC News.
The stepped up pressure has included three superseding indictments in two federal courts, amounting to more than 40 charges related to money laundering, tax and bank fraud, conspiracy, and other financial crimes that largely predate his time on the Trump campaign. Prosecutors have repeatedly sought to challenge Manafort’s proposals to make bail, and confined him to his home, where he is monitored by an ankle bracelet.
Prosecutors have brought charges against two of Manafort’s former colleagues. One, former business partner Rick Gates, has already pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the federal probe of possible campaign collusion with the Russians.
Last week, government prosecutors argued in a new court filing that Manafort abused that home confinement by contacting and, they allege, seeking to tamper with potential witnesses.
Two former federal prosecutors who are now white collar criminal defense attorneys, Shanlon Wu and Peter Zeidenberg, agreed that the tough tactics employed by Mueller were either designed to pressure Manafort into providing incriminating evidence against other potential targets, including the president, or intended to produce a swift guilty plea to simply save time and resources on a trial.
Manafort “must know a lot of stuff about a lot of Russians doing a lot of bad stuff,” Zeidenberg, the former federal prosecutor, told ABC News. “I’m sure he has a lot of information they would like to get.”
Manafort was one of the highest-ranking Trump campaign aides charged as part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential campaign. The investigation that has already issued nine indictments covering 20 individuals and three businesses, and securing five guilty pleas.
Having served as Trump’s campaign chairman for nearly six months in 2016, Manafort was involved in some capacity with a number of events the special counsel is said to be investigating, including the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between members of the Trump campaign and several Russians, including a Kremlin-connected lawyer.
For Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, the stakes on Friday couldn’t be higher. In March, the federal judge overseeing Manafort’s case in Virginia, T.S. Ellis III, warned that if the 69-year-old is found guilty of any or all charges stacked against him, he “faces the very real possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison.”
Earlier this year, Manafort’s legal team mounted a promising effort to have his $10 million bail deal revised in an Manafort off home confinement, but the effort was ultimately derailed over disputes about the actual value of his properties – some of which are also under investigation by the special counsel. But in the past week, the special counsel has attempted to dent Manafort’s chances of making bail at all.
Lawyers for Manafort have called the new tampering allegations “dubious.” But Zeidenberg said they understand the gravity of the charge. “It’s a big deal,” he said, noting the challenges of trying to prepare for trial when Manafort’s attorneys don’t have ready access to him.
“To be a defense attorney in one of these cases, you need your client on the computer reviewing the documents, even if it’s remote from his couch,” Zeldenberg explained. “You’re sending emails back and forth all day long. It’s time sensitive. Try to do that when a guy is locked up. It’s not possible. You go into the jail maybe twice a week. It’s just almost impossible.”
Wu, who has served as a federal prosecutor and white collar defense attorney, said it is exceedingly rare to have individuals charged with white collar crimes imprisoned ahead of a trial – and for a process that could take months, or even a year.
“They’re not usually dangerous,” he said.
If his bail were to be revoked, Manafort would likely be held in a Washington or Alexandria, Va., city detention facility, according to numerous law enforcement and legal sources. If Judge Jackson decides to maintain his “24-hour-a-day lockdown, he would likely remain on electronic monitors in his Alexandria home – where one Manafort friend told ABC News he has been comfortable.
“He lives in a luxury condo. And he’s got a good wife and they like spending time together. It’s a lot of pressure on him but he’s hanging in there,” the friend said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by Manafort to discuss it. “He’s doing okay.”
Caputo said in an interview that, no matter where Manafort is headed after Friday’s hearing, he does not think the former Trump campaign chief will cut a deal. “Not a chance,” he said.
“He is cool under pressure,” Caputo told ABC News. “I think this is the kind of pressure you never ever want to face, but Paul is handling it characteristically.”
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