By Sarah N. Lynch and Warren Strobel
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge on Friday sent Paul Manafort to jail pending trial after he was charged with witness tampering, in the latest episode in a slow fall from grace of a man who was President Donald Trump's campaign chairman in 2016.
Manafort, a longtime political operator and businessman, has been a focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's 13-month-long investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Manafort has been indicted in both Washington and Virginia on a series of mostly financial-related charges, including conspiring to launder money and defraud the United States.
He had been on home confinement in Alexandria, Virginia, and required to wear an electronic monitoring device. But last week Mueller charged him in a new indictment with witness tampering.
Manafort pleaded not guilty to that charge on Friday but U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington revoked his bail, sending him to jail.
“I have no appetite for this," she said. "But in the end, I cannot turn a blind eye."
"You’ve abused the trust placed in you," she said.
Manafort turned around briefly to wave to his wife in the front row before heading out a door at the back of the packed courtroom, court witnesses said.
TRUMP SAYS 'VERY UNFAIR!'
Trump said it was unfair to send Manafort to jail.
"Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort," Trump wrote on Twitter. "Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the Mob," he wrote. "Very unfair!"
Mueller, whose investigation has overshadowed Trump's presidency, is investigating whether the president's 2016 campaign colluded with Moscow and whether Trump has unlawfully sought to obstruct the Russia probe. Trump has called Mueller's investigation a witch hunt and denied wrongdoing.
Mueller's team this month asked the judge to revoke Manafort's bail. The Washington trial is scheduled for September and the trial on the related charges in Virginia is set for July 25. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
None of Manafort's charges refers to alleged Russian interference in the election nor the accusations of collusion between Moscow and Trump’s campaign. The Kremlin has denied meddling in the election.
CHAIRMAN TWO MONTHS
Manafort chaired the Trump campaign for two months, including during the period when Trump, a former reality TV star, won the Republican Party nomination.
Manafort resigned in August 2016 following a news report he had received possibly illegal payments from the political party of Ukraine's former, pro-Russian president.
As president, Trump has the power to pardon his former aide of any federal crimes preemptively, as then-President Gerald Ford did for his predecessor Richard Nixon on Sept. 8, 1974.
Asked by reporters on Friday if he might consider pardoning former aides, Trump said: “I don’t want to talk about that.”
Legal experts have said Mueller wants to keep applying pressure on Manafort to plead guilty and assist prosecutors with the probe.
“Either he can double down in his resolve to fight it or it’s the last straw and it breaks his will and he decides to work out a plea bargain,” Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor, told Reuters.
“I would think that going to jail is going to put enormous pressure on him from his family,” Zeldin said.
A June 8 indictment accused Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort aide and political operative of having ties to Russian intelligence, with tampering with witnesses about their past lobbying for Ukraine's former pro-Russian government.
The indictment accused Manafort and Kilimnik of attempting to call, text and send encrypted messages in February to two people from a political discussion group - the so-called Hapsburg Group - that worked with Manafort to promote Ukraine's interests in a bid to sway their testimony.
Manafort’s lawyers have argued that the evidence suggesting he tampered with witnesses is thin. One of the February 2018 conversations cited by prosecutors between Manafort and a person identified as “Person D1” lasted a minute and 24 seconds.
Manafort has longstanding ties to a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and a Russian oligarch close to the Kremlin.
In addition to conspiracy to launder money and defraud the United States, the charges against Manafort in Washington include failing to register as a foreign agent for the pro-Russia Ukrainian government under former President Viktor Yanukovych.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Warren Strobel; Additional reporting by Nathan Layne and; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Howard Goller)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
Updated Date: Jun 16, 2018 02:05:27 IST