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'Atlantic': Franklin Foer On Paul Manafort And The Fall Of Washington


There is another development in the Russia investigation. It relates to Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman and one of the first people indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller. Manafort has been under house arrest pending his trial for violating federal tax and money laundering laws. Now prosecutors are accusing him of attempting to tamper with witnesses in that trial. To find out what that means for Manafort and the investigation generally, we turn to Franklin Foer. He's a national correspondent for The Atlantic.

Franklin, thanks for being with us.


MARTIN: You have written, we should say, extensively about Paul Manafort. And we'll get to how this fits into the broader charges against him. But first, what can you tell us about these specific witness tampering charges? What witnesses was Manafort allegedly trying to influence?

FOER: So last February, Robert Mueller indicted Manafort for a second time. And in this indictment, Mueller described Manafort's work for something called the Hapsburg group. The Hapsburg group was a cadre of European politicians that Manafort pulled together in order to lobby on behalf of his big client, the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.

MARTIN: This is all work, we should say, that was happening long before he joined the Trump campaign.

FOER: Exactly. And so we didn't - but we didn't know anything about his work with the Hapsburg group until Mueller's indictment. So he - Manafort's indicted, and then a couple days later, he starts to reach out to the guys who worked for a European public relations firm who were his collaborators in creating the Hapsburg group. And he was trying to apparently coach their testimony to make sure that their version of events aligned with his own, and that's the witness tampering and the efforts to suborn perjury that Mueller is talking about.

MARTIN: And I understand that the big distinction here is that Manafort was trying to get them to align with his story that what he was doing was just about Europe. Explain why that's significant.

FOER: Exactly. Manafort had been indicted because of his failure to register his work with the Hapsburg group under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. So because Mueller asserted that he was lobbying U.S. politicians, working on behalf of a foreign government, he was required to fill out paperwork, which he didn't do. And so he was trying to get the witnesses aligned to say that all this work was just happening in Europe; there was no reason for him...

MARTIN: Because the same laws wouldn't apply if it was just work that was being done in Europe.

FOER: Precisely, precisely.

MARTIN: What is the broader significance of this as far as the overall Russia investigation goes? Because it seems unrelated to the central question of whether or not the Trump campaign or anyone in it was colluding with Russia.

FOER: Well, the fact is, we don't know precisely how this tracks back to this central narrative of collusion. What we do know is that in each filing against Paul Manafort, Robert Mueller is cranking up the pressure. He keeps revealing the extent to which he's surveilling Manafort, keeps busting him for new misdeeds, and it seems like Mueller has some end goal with Manafort. He's trying to get him to cooperate in some way, shape or form. And so each time he brings a filing, he's applying new pressure, one assumes, in hope of achieving that goal.

MARTIN: Do we have any information about how Paul Manafort has responded to these latest charges or whether or not this could potentially shift his overall legal strategy?

FOER: We don't know that yet. And according to latest reports, Manafort is kind of assimilating events and deciding how to respond. But he's being threatened in a pretty important way here, which is that he's right now outside of jail. And if it's - if the judge deems that he violated the terms of his bail, there is a chance that he would no longer be under house arrest. He would be under some sort of more invasive form of arrest.

MARTIN: All right, Franklin Foer from The Atlantic talking about these new charges against Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman. Franklin, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

FOER: Pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.