When the news broke that Paul Manafort, under indictment by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, repeatedly tried to contact witnesses in the case against him despite round-the-clock electronic surveillance, many asked the same question: What was he thinking?
“As counsel, you are repeatedly advising a client to steer clear of witness tampering,” says Jacob Frenkel, a white-collar-criminal-defense attorney. “But the client has to listen. This will be the poster-child case that lawyers will use to highlight the risk of communicating with witnesses pretrial.”
Manafort, who has been on house arrest since he was indicted last fall on charges including money laundering, bank fraud, and tax evasion, has played with fire before. In December, Mueller abruptly pulled out of a bail agreement he had reached with Manafort’s legal team when one of his special agents, Brock Domin, discovered that Manafort had been helping to write an op-ed in violation of a gag order. In a court filing released on Monday, Mueller again recommended that Manafort’s bail be revoked due to “witness tampering”—Manafort allegedly reached out to some of his former European associates in February to help them shape their stories. One witness flatly told the FBI that Manafort was trying to “suborn perjury,” prosecutors said. Legal experts say that any effort to contact potential witnesses was ill-advised on Manafort’s part—he must have known he was under electronic surveillance, especially in such a high-profile case, they say—making his actions even more puzzling.