U.S. special counsel adds charges against Manafort, indicts Russian operative

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(Reuters) – U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed new criminal charges on Friday against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort while also indicting a longtime associate of Manafort’s with alleged ties to Russian intelligence.

FILE PHOTO Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for U.S. President Donald Trump, departs after a hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, U.S., April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

The indictment, filed by Mueller in District of Columbia federal court, added Konstantin Kilimnik as a defendant and charged both men with obstructing justice in their attempts to tamper with witnesses about their lobbying work for Ukraine.

It was the third time Mueller had added to charges against Manafort. It also marked the first time Kilimnik, who in previous court filings was referred to only as “Person A” and described as having links to Russian spy agencies, was named.

Kilimnik could not be immediately reached for comment. He has denied such allegations in prior interviews with the press.

By naming Kilimnik, the indictment could alter the way the prosecution of Manafort and the probe by Mueller into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign is perceived, said former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.

Trump has repeatedly called the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt” and denied any collusion with Russia.

“This indictment could be very important from a political perspective,” said Mariotti, a Democrat who is running for Illinois attorney general. “You now have the former chairman of the Trump campaign charged with conspiring with a suspected Russian intelligence operative. That’s quite astounding.”

In a court filing earlier this week Mueller asked the judge overseeing the case in the District of Columbia to revoke or revise an order releasing Manafort ahead of trial due to the allegations of witness tampering. Manafort’s lawyers had been given a deadline of Friday to respond to those charges.

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. He has pleaded not guilty.

In the court filing earlier this week Mueller accused Manafort of attempting to call, text and send encrypted messages in February to two people from “The Hapsburg Group,” a political discussion group he worked with to promote the interests of Ukraine.

The communications by Manafort were “in an effort to influence their testimony and to otherwise conceal evidence,” an FBI agent Brock Domin wrote in a declaration filed to the court earlier this week.

Mueller’s office said the government had “developed substantial evidence showing that the Hapsburg group performed a variety of lobbying tasks in the United States,” which included disseminating ghostwritten articles in the American media and arranging meetings with U.S. officials and politicians. Sources familiar with the group’s activities said that among its major figures were Alfred Gusenbauer, a former Austrian chancellor, and Romano Prodi, a former Italian prime minister.

In Friday’s indictment Mueller accused Kilimnik of taking part in the covert lobbying scheme, and in trying to influence potential witnesses.

Reporting by Nathan Layne in New York and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Marguerita Choy

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