Political News

Mueller Adds Obstruction Charge on Manafort and Indicts His Right-Hand Man

Posted June 8, 2018 5:02 p.m. EDT
Updated June 8, 2018 5:06 p.m. EDT

FILE -- Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the federal courthouse an arraignment hearing in Alexandria, Va., March 8, 2018. The special counsel, Robert Mueller, brought new obstruction charges on June 8 against Manafort, and added allegations against a close associate, who prosecutors suspect has ties to Russian intelligence. Prosecutors said the obstruction charge relates to Manafort's efforts to coach the stories of witnesses against him. He remains charged with money laundering, illegal foreign lobbying and lying to federal officials. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller brought new obstruction charges Friday against President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and added allegations against a close associate, who prosecutors suspect has ties to Russian intelligence.

Prosecutors said the obstruction charge relates to Manafort’s efforts to coach the stories of witnesses against him. He remains accused of money laundering, illegal foreign lobbying and lying to federal officials. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Manafort’s longtime associate Konstantin V. Kilimnik was added to the case, and was charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The charges are related to an effort by him, Manafort and other associates to have prominent European politicians vouch publicly for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russia former president of Ukraine, who was Manafort’s client.

Kilimnik and Manafort tried to persuade two associates who worked on the campaign involving the Europeans, whom they referred to as the “Hapsburg group,” to lie about its scope, prosecutors said.

The men placed op-eds from the politicians and arranged meetings for them in the United States and around the world, according to court papers. Manafort, who coordinated the effort, provided $2.4 million from overseas bank accounts to fund the Hapsburg group’s activities, according to court papers.

But prosecutors allege Manafort and Kilimnik contacted the associates starting in February to urge them to tell investigators that the Hapsburg group’s efforts only consisted of outreach in Europe and not in the United States. That is significant because any lobbying or public relations in the United States on behalf of foreign politicians, governments or companies would trigger an obligation under the Foreign Agents Registration Act to disclose those activities to the Department of Justice.

In a filing this week, the special counsel alleged that the outreach by Manafort and Kilimnik was an attempt to tamper with witnesses. Kilimnik was not named in the filing, which instead referred to him as “Person A,” a description used in several previous filings by Mueller’s team.

In those filings, the special counsel had indicated that Kilimnik, who began working with Manafort in 2005 for Yanukovych’s political party and its supporters, had ties to Russian intelligence. Kilimnik has denied such ties and characterized himself as “a random casualty because of my proximity to” Manafort.

A Russian citizen, Kilimnik, 47, had studied as a linguist at the Military Institute of the Ministry of Defense in Moscow. He initially worked as a translator in Ukraine for Manafort, who speaks neither Russian nor Ukrainian, and became a progressively more integral member of Manafort’s team, eventually running the Kiev office for Manafort’s firm.

Lobbying records filed last year by the firm show that it paid $531,000 to Kilimnik in 2013 and 2014, but that covers only a fraction of the time he worked for Manafort.

The men continued to work together for a successor party to Yanukovych’s after he fled Ukraine in February 2014 amid protests of his regime’s corruption and pivot toward Moscow, eventually arriving in Russia and effectively ending his presidency.

Kilimnik remained in contact with Manafort during the period when Manafort was serving as chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016. Even after Manafort was first indicted by the special counsel in October 2017, he continued communicating with Kilimnik, working with him on an op-ed defending Manafort’s work in Ukraine.