Manafort, 69, thus became the second former Trump aide to go to jail related to charges brought by the special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian election interference and links between Trump aides and Moscow.
Three other former aides, including the former national security adviser Michael Flynn, have been indicted and are cooperating with Mueller’s team of investigators. Former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulous was briefly held in custody. The charges against Manafort, which he denies, do not relate to his work on the Trump campaign or Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election.
While Trump has distanced himself from Manafort, the arrest seemed likely to turn up the pressure in the White House. Mueller has asked the president to sit for an interview, which Trump has so far resisted.
Hours after Manafort was jailed, Trump tweeted: “Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort.” Manafort has not been tried or sentenced.
At the White House before the jailing, Trump falsely claimed to reporters: “Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign. But … I tell you, I feel a little badly about it.”
He added: “You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time. He worked for Ronald Reagan. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked for John McCain, or his firm did. He worked for many other Republicans. He worked for me, what, for 49 days or something? A very short period of time.”
In fact, Manafort ran the campaign for five months and continued to advise Trump through the presidential transition.
Trump also falsely claimed that a Department of Justice report issued on Thursday “totally exonerates” him and denied that Michael Cohen, his longtime attorney and fixer who is widely expected to be arrested soon in an investigation related to the Mueller inquiry, was his lawyer. “I haven’t spoken to Michael for a long time,” he said.
Prosecutors alleged that Manafort sought to tamper with witnesses in his case by contacting them and attempting to coordinate testimony. Manafort is said to have told witnesses their work together to influence European politicians on behalf of Ukraine was restricted to Europe and did not happen in the US.
Prosecutors argued there was no way to guarantee that Manafort would comply with orders if not in custody. A lawyer for Manafort said the court could be clearer on the nature of contact Manafort was permitted to have with potential witnesses.
According to reporters in the room, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the US district court for the District of Columbia said she had “struggled” with her decision but could not “turn a blind eye” to Manafort’s conduct. He had, she said, “abused the trust placed” in him and treated the court proceeding as “just another marketing exercise”.
“This is not middle school,” Berman Jackson said. “I can’t take away his cellphone. If I tell him not to call 56 witnesses, will he call the 57th?”
As he was taken into custody, Manafort waved to his wife. He was not placed in handcuffs.
Manafort who faces charges of alleged money laundering, tax fraud, failure to register as a foreign agent and obstruction of justice, faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years on the charges he faces in the District of Columbia. He also faces up to 270 years in prison on charges in district court in Virginia, meaning he could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.
To diminish his potential sentence, Manafort, who denies all wrongdoing, may seek to reach a deal with federal prosecutors. His protege and longtime deputy, Richard Gates, cut a similar deal with prosecutors in February, pleading guilty to felony charges of conspiracy and making false statements.
“I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence,” Manafort said at the time.
A spokesman for Manafort, Jason Maloni, did not immediately issue a statement on Friday.
A political lobbyist and Republican operator whose career in Washington reaches back to the Nixon era, Manafort courted the Trump campaign in early 2016 and was hired that February to corral delegates for the presidential nomination as Trump won primary after primary.
Manafort’s past, undeclared work in Ukraine and for Russian oligarchs drew scrutiny as the first questions began to surface about alleged coordination between the campaign and Moscow. Manafort then stepped down.
The FBI has investigated Manafort, including conducting surveillance on him, since at least 2014. In late July 2017, agents conducted a pre-dawn raid on his home in Virginia, seizing computers and documents. After the raid, Trump admitted that he knew the man who ran his campaign at a crucial stage.
“I know Mr Manafort – I haven’t spoken to him in a long time, but I know him,” Trump said. “He was with the campaign, as you know, for a very short period of time, relatively short period of time. But I’ve always known him to be a good man.”
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