WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who has been indicted by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, attempted to tamper with potential witnesses, Mueller said in a court filing on Monday.
Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, asked the judge overseeing the case in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to revoke or revise an order releasing Manafort ahead of his trial.
“Manafort and Person A - who is a longtime associate of Manafort’s - repeatedly contacted Persons D1 and D2 in an effort to secure materially false testimony concerning the activities of the Hapsburg group,” the court filing reads.
At one point, Manafort sent one of the unidentified people a text via an encrypted messaging service that read, “This is paul,” before sending a message linking to a news article and another saying, “we should talk.”
After the two people ignored several messages or hung up on Manafort’s calls, his associate attempted to contact them for him. “My friend P is trying to reach [Person D1] to brief him on what’s going on,” one of the messages sent by the associate in February read.
Several months later, the associate sent another message to a different person reading: “My friend P is looking for ways to connect to you to pass you several messages. Can we arrange that.”
Domin said the two potential witnesses believed the messages and phone calls were “an effort to influence [their] testimony.”
Mueller pointed to the evidence in his calls for the courts to “promptly” schedule a hearing to revise Manafort’s release, saying his actions threaten “the integrity of the trial.”
“Manafort’s obstructive conduct - carried out at a time when he was seeking relief from his current conditions of release - instills little confidence that restrictions short of detention will assure Manafort’s compliance with the Court’s orders and prevent him from committing further crimes,” the filing reads.
Manafort was released to home confinement after his arraignment in October.
Mueller has indicted Manafort in federal courts in Virginia and Washington, D.C., with an array of allegations from money-laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent, to bank and tax fraud. Manafort has pleaded not guilty.
FBI Special Agent Brock Domin, in a declaration filed with Mueller’s motion, said Manafort had attempted to call, text and send encrypted messages in February to two people from “The Hapsburg Group,” a firm he worked with to promote the interests of Ukraine.
The FBI has documents and statements from the two people, as well as telephone records and documents recovered through a search of Manafort’s iCloud account showing that Trump’s former campaign manager attempted communication while he was out on bail, according to Domin.
The communications were “in an effort to influence their testimony and to otherwise conceal evidence,” Domin wrote. “The investigation into this matter is ongoing.”
Manafort is the most senior member of Trump’s campaign to be indicted, though the charges do not relate to campaign activities.
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.
The Washington trial is set to start on Sept. 17.
Trump has denied collusion with Russia and called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.”
Reporting by Eric Beech; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Sandra Maler