Mueller unveils new charges in Russia probe
SPECIAL counsel Robert Mueller has brought additional charges against President Donald Trump's campaign chairman and a longtime associate, accusing them of obstructing justice.
The new charges were unsealed today against Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, just days after prosecutors accused the two men of attempting to tamper with witnesses as Manafort awaits trial of felony charges related to his work on behalf of Ukrainian interests.
The indictment charges both men with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice related to contacts they had with two witnesses earlier this year.
The witnesses, who had worked with Manafort as he represented a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, have told the FBI that they believed Manafort and Kilimnik were trying to get them to lie about the nature of their work.
Through a spokesman, Manafort has maintained his innocence. The spokesman, Jason Maloni, said that Manafort and his attorneys were reviewing the new charges.
Kilimnik has previously declined to comment on the allegations.
Prosecutors say the contacts via phone and encrypted messaging applications first occurred in February, shortly after a grand jury returned a new indictment against Manafort and while he was confined to his home. Kilimnik also reached out to witnesses in April.
The charges mark the second time since October that an indictment against Manafort has been amended to include additional allegations.
The latest charges increase Manafort's legal jeopardy if he continues to refuse to co-operate with prosecutors, and could be an effort by Mueller to induce a guilty plea and secure the testimony of a critical campaign adviser to Trump.
Manafort is awaiting trial in federal court in Washington and Alexandria, Virginia. His co-defendant, Rick Gates, pleaded guilty in February and agreed to co-operate with prosecutors.
The timing of these fresh charges couldn't come at a more awkward time, with Mr Trump only this morning calling for the reinstatement of Russia into the G-7. The country was ousted from the leading group of industrialised nations in 2014 as punishment for President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea and its support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.
Mr Trump made the comment at the White House on Friday morning (local time).
"Why are we having a meeting without Russia in the meeting?" he asked.
"They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table."
The comments no doubt injected more drama into an already tense meeting, given Mr Trump already solidified his solo status on the world stage by out at longtime allies over their criticism of his trade policies.
He arrived behind schedule and planned an early exit from the G-7 meeting.