Manafort attempted to tamper with witnesses, prosecutors on Mueller's team say

President Donald Trump asserted his presidential power and escalated his efforts to discredit the special counsel Russia probe Monday declaring he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself

President Donald Trump criticized the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Sunday, questioning why neither agency had let him know they were "secretly investigating" his former campaign chief, Paul Manafort, during the 2016 presidential election.

The judge gave Manafort's lawyers until Friday to present a written rebuttal to accusations by prosecutors that he and a longtime associate repeatedly contacted two executives at a public relations firm in hopes of persuading them to provide false testimony about secret lobbying they did at Manafort's behest in 2013.

And if a court revokes or restricts Manafort's bail agreement in light of a witness tampering charge, it ramps up the pressure on him to cooperate - which also spells trouble for Trump. Manafort was released to home confinement after his arraignment in October.

Mueller filed a superseding indictment against the Hapsburg group and Manafort on February 23, alleging Manafort violated federal laws by not registering as a lobbyist for the Ukrainian government.

A Manafort spokesman fired back, saying: "Mr. Manafort is innocent and nothing about this latest allegation changes our defense". "We will do our talking in court".

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges, which includes conspiracy against the US, money laundering, bank and wire fraud.

The charges, which involve tens of millions of dollars routed through offshore accounts, do not relate to his work on the Trump campaign or involve allegations of Russian election interference. Manafort is arguing they lobbied only the EU. Kilimnik did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The court filings suggest his attempts to reach the witnesses were ignored.

Manafort hired a public relations firm to work on a European and USA media strategy from 2011 and 2012 to "tell the true story" about former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was tried for abuse of office and jailed for seven years at the end of 2011, according to documents released by Mueller's prosecutors.

Manafort is now facing charges in two criminal cases that accuse him of bank fraud, tax evasion and acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Prosecutors say Manafort directed the group's work and secretly funneled more than $2 million to it to take positions favourable to Ukraine including by lobbying in the USA without disclosing that they were being paid to favourably represent the country. In Monday night's filing, prosecutors attached several emails and schedules from 2011 to 2013 about the Hapsburg group's meetings in the U.S. with members of Congress.

"Basically P wants to give him a quick summary that he says to everybody (which is true) that our friends never lobbied in the US, and the goal of the program was European Union", the Manafort associate wrote in a February 28 WhatsApp message, according to the filings.

In February, the 69-year-old pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering, illegal lobbying and lying, setting up the first trial to result from Mueller's investigation, due to begin on September 17.

Also that week, on February 23, Manafort's longtime deputy Rick Gates agreed to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy and lying to investigators and would cooperate with prosecutors, making Manafort's case an even more hard one to overcome. The individual then hung up "because he was concerned about the outreach", according to the affidavit.

The communications were an "effort to influence their testimony and to otherwise hide evidence", FBI Special Agent Brock Domin wrote in a declaration filed to court alongside Mr Mueller's motion.

He added that Manafort "came into the campaign very late and was with us for a short period of time", but said the campaign "should have been told that Comey and the boys were doing a number on him, and he wouldn't have been hired!"

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