Ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, Russian associate hit with obstruction charges

Paul Manafort appears to be running out of ways to combat a key charge in the Mueller probe

None of the charges against Manafort are related to Russian interference in the 2016 elections or any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, which Mueller was originally appointed to investigate.

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.

The charges could be an effort by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to induce a guilty plea and secure the testimony of a critical campaign adviser to Trump.

The case now accuses both Manafort and Kilimnik, 48, of Moscow, of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, meaning they allegedly worked together to contact two possible witnesses in Manafort's case since February.

The witnesses told investigators that they "understood" that Manafort was reaching out to influence the testimony, according to court papers.

The U.S.is now charging Manafort and the associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, with obstructing justice and conspiring to get potential witnesses to lie about lobbying work they'd done for Ukraine. Kilimnik was considered by investigators to have been involved trying to set this up, according to The Washington Post last September. The spokesman, Jason Maloni, said Friday that Manafort and his attorneys were reviewing the new charges.

Prosecutors have said Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence, which he denies.

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The expanded criminal allegations ratchet up the pressure Manafort faces to cut a deal with the special counsel's office as he awaits two criminal trials.

According to the Prosecutor, between 2006 and 2014 Manafort and his partners Richard gates and kilimnik "participated in a lobbying campaign worth millions of dollars in the United States", working with the ex-President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, Party of regions and the government of Ukraine. He also has denied being connected to Russian intelligence agencies. For Manafort, the charges came just before his attorneys argued that he should be allowed to be freed from home confinement on bond pending his trial, scheduled for next month in Alexandria, Va.

Neither Kilimnik nor a Manafort spokesman responded to messages seeking comment. The individuals shared communications with prosecutors, the government said.

Manafort, who has also been indicted in a federal court in Virginia, has been charged with an array of allegations from money-laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent for Ukraine to bank and tax fraud. "Closer scrutiny of this "evidence" reveals that the Special Counsel's allegations are without merit because Mr. Manafort's limited communications can not be fairly read, either factually or legally, to reflect an intent to corruptly influence a trial witness". His co-defendant, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty in February and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Read on for a look at Manafort's work with the Trump campaign and how he is connected to the Russian Federation investigation.

Mueller also accused Manafort of secretly paying former European politicians to lobby on behalf of Ukraine. 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.

In the summer of 2016, Manafort emailed Kilimnik and told him to offer private briefings on the USA presidential campaign to Deripaska in an effort to resolve the dispute, people close to the situation have said.

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