- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 9, 2018

Attorneys for Paul Manafort on Friday accused special counsel Robert Mueller of manufacturing witness-tampering claims to pressure business associates of the former Trump campaign chief into perjuring themselves at his upcoming trial.

In court documents filed just before midnight, Mr. Manafort’s attorneys said allegations that their client is trying to influence witness testimony is based on “the thinnest of evidence.”

“The Special Counsel contrives dubious allegations of witness tampering,” wrote Kevin Downing, one of Mr. Manafort’s attorneys. “From a scant record, the Special Counsel conjures a sinister plot to ‘corruptly persuade’ two of Mr. Manafort’s former business associates to perjure themselves at the upcoming trial in September.”

Mr. Manafort is accused of illegal lobbying and laundering money from his work in the Ukraine, as well as lying to federal agents to hide that conduct. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is currently awaiting trials scheduled in Washington, D.C. and Virginia.

On Friday, Mr. Mueller added an obstruction of justice charge to the counts pending against Mr. Manafort, filing a superseding indictment. Mr. Mueller alleges that Mr. Manafort and his longtime business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, tried to slant the testimony of witnesses in the investigation.

But Mr. Manafort’s legal team pushed back, saying those communications were “irrelevant, innocuous and unsupportive of the conjured witness tampering claim.” They say one of the phone calls between Mr. Manafort and former business associates amounted to one 84-second phone call and a few text messages.

The court documents also challenged Mr. Muller’s claim that Mr. Manafort’s use of multiple phones was evidence of witness tampering. They say the former Trump campaign head routinely used multiple phones because of his travels to regions where communications are often hacked.

“The communications and conduct alleged by the Special Counsel in this case come nowhere near the conduct discussed in the cases supporting witness tampering charges,” Mr. Downing wrote. “In fact, nothing in the Release Order bars Mr. Manafort from communicating with others, whether those individuals are possible witnesses at his trial or otherwise.”

President Donald Trump on Friday rejected the notion he’s thinking of pardoning Mr. Manafort or Micheal Cohen, the president’s personal attorney who is under federal investigation in New York.

“They haven’t been convicted of anything,” Mr. Trump told reporters. “There’s nothing to pardon. It is far too early to be thinking about it.”

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