WASHINGTON - Special counsel Robert Mueller has brought new obstruction charges against President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman and a longtime associate who prosecutors have said has ties to Russian intelligence.
The indictment was unsealed Friday against Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik just days after prosecutors accused the two men of attempting to tamper with witnesses as Manafort awaits trial on charges related to his foreign lobbying work.
The latest charges increase Manafort’s legal jeopardy if he continues an aggressive battle with prosecutors, and could be an effort by Mueller to induce a guilty plea and secure the testimony of a critical campaign adviser to Trump. They also come as Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have heaped public criticism on the Mueller investigation in an attempt to undermine it.
The charges do not relate to Manafort’s work on the Trump campaign or involve allegations of Russian election interference, a fact that the president has routinely noted as he tried to distance himself from his former top campaign adviser.
On Friday, Trump also dismissed any talk of pardoning Manafort or his longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York.
“They haven’t been convicted of anything. There’s nothing to pardon. It is far too early to be thinking about it,” Trump told reporters.
The new indictment charges Manafort and Kilimnik with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice related to contacts they had with two witnesses earlier this year. The witnesses, who had worked with Manafort as he represented a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, have told the FBI that they believed Manafort and Kilimnik were trying to get them to lie about the nature of their work.
The charges mark the second time since his October indictment that Manafort has faced additional criminal charges.
In the latest charges, prosecutors say the contacts with the witnesses via phone and encrypted messaging applications first occurred in February, shortly after Manafort’s co-defendant, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Kilimnik also reached out to witnesses in April.