Manafort’s lawyers say Mueller’s new charges are based on ‘thinnest of evidence’

(CNN) — 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.”

In a court filing responding to accusations of witness tampering brought by Mueller on Monday, Manafort’s attorneys urged the court to maintain his current conditions of pre-trial release.

In the late Friday filing, Manafort’s lawyers said the special counsel’s allegations of witness tampering “conjures a sinister plot” to persuade associates to perjure themselves, but disputes that the evidence provided establishes any tampering. In addition, the filing says, Manafort’s right to a fair trial by impartial jury “may have been irreparably damaged by the Special Counsel’s latest, very public and very specious, filing of this motion.”

“Mr. Manafort asked no one to provide a false affidavit or false testimony at trial, or perjure themselves, and he has not given — nor offered to give — any potential witness anything in exchange for false testimony,” the response said.

On Monday, Mueller asked a Washington, DC, federal judge to send Manafort to jail for allegedly attempting to get witnesses to lie for him in court.

The special counsel’s team alleged one witness told investigators that Manafort wanted them to commit perjury about a lobbying effort they worked on for him in the United States.

Manafort is currently out on house arrest and a $10 million unsecured bail. He awaits a trial in Virginia that is scheduled for late July and a trial in DC scheduled to begin in September. He has pleaded not guilty to charges related to his failure to disclose his US lobbying work for a foreign government and to bank fraud and other financial crimes.

The new charges accuse Manafort of “repeatedly” contacting two anonymous people who may be witnesses against him. Manafort and a confidante — later revealed to be Konstantin Kilimnik in a new indictment released Friday — asked the two former business associates to claim lobbying work they did for Ukraine only happened in Europe, and not in the United States. Prosecutors allege that amounts to trying to get everyone on the same page since everyone involved knew they had lobbied Congress on behalf of Ukraine.

Manafort’s attorneys said Friday the new charges on based on slim evidence: an 84-second phone call and text messages between Manafort and the two former business associates.

They argue the limited amount of communications “cannot be fairly read, either factually or legally, to reflect an intent to corruptly influence a trial witness.”

“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,” their filing said. “However, exhibits attached to the Special Counsel’s filing support the defendant’s position that the mission and work of the so-called Hapsburg Group was European-focused and that the text messages cited by the Special Counsel do not establish any witness tampering.”

“Mr. Manafort’s Sixth Amendment right to trial by an impartial jury in this district may have been irreparably damaged by the Special Counsel’s latest, very public and very specious, filing of this motion,” Manafort’s attorneys’ response said.

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