Former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his attorneys struck back at special counsel Robert Mueller's charges of witness tampering late Friday, calling them based on the "thinnest of evidence".
Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik were slammed with one count each of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for "knowingly and intentionally" trying to secure false testimony from two potential witnesses in the investigation into Russian election meddling, according to Mueller's federal Washington court filing.
And Kilimnik also has been described as the person with "ties to a Russian intelligence service" in court documents relating to two other people in the Manafort-Ukraine business: Manafort's former business partner, Rick Gates, and a London attorney, Alex van der Zwaan.
Manafort relied heavily on Kilimnik throughout his decade-long work in Ukraine.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller testifies during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 19, 2013.
Manafort and Kilimnik worked together on behalf of the former government of Ukraine, prosecutors say.
Manafort has maintained his innocence despite all of the charges brought before him.
Along with his former business associate Rick Gates, Manafort was initially indicted in October 2017 on multiple counts that included: conspiracy against the USA, conspiracy to launder money, false statements and failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.
"You don't really care about Mr. Manafort", U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III told Mueller's team.
Jackson previously gave Manafort a pass after federal agents found he had ghostwritten an opinion piece in Ukraine even though he was under a gag order in the case.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders also downplayed Manafort's involvement with the campaign in a press briefing.
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The witnesses worked with Manafort in organizing a group of former European officials who lobbied within the US without registering as required by law.
That day was the first time prosecutors also revealed they knew about Manafort's efforts to pay an influential group of European politicians, called the Hapsburg group, 2 million to help his Ukrainian lobbying clients.
Kilimnik, according to court papers, wrote a message to the other executive two days later saying: "Basically P wants to give him a quick summary that he says to everybody (which is true) that our friends never lobbied in the United States, and the goal of the program was European Union".
Manafort allegedly tried to get in touch with one of the witnesses via encrypted apps.
Manafort messaged and called one of the witnesses shortly after he and business partner Rick Gates were indicted previous year on a slew of charges related to their Ukrainian political activities, according to court papers.
Manafort's attorneys countered that prosecutors presented "scant proof" - mostly "irrelevant, innocuous" texts, and one completed phone call of five attempts that lasted one minute and 24 seconds.
They said Manafort's "limited communications can not be fairly read, either factually or legally, to reflect an intent to corruptly influence a trial witness".
A close protege who worked alongside Manafort for years in Ukraine, Kilimnik is the 20th person charged so far in Mueller's investigation.
Kilimnik, who isn't in the US and didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, has denied any links to Russian intelligence.
Asked on Friday if he would pardon Manafort, Trump refused to answer. Kilimnik later took on more responsibilities, serving as Manafort's liaison to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who paid Manafort to advise him on investments.
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