New charges against Trump associates as inquiry gathers pace

Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik both accused of obstructing justice

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

 

US special counsel Robert Mueller filed new charges against Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Konstantin Kilimnik in a Washington DC court on Friday, accusing both men of obstructing justice.

In a sign that Mr Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is gathering pace, prosecutors for the special counsel accused both men of trying to “corruptly persuade” witnesses “with the intent to influence, delay and prevent” their testimony.

Earlier in the day Mr Trump did not rule out the possibility of granting a presidential pardon to Mr Manafort and the US president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen.

Questioned by journalists, Mr Trump said: “I haven’t thought about it … It’s certainly far too early to be thinking about that.” He added that neither Mr Manafort nor Mr Cohen had been convicted of anything. He also repeated his view that the Russian investigation was a “witch hunt”.

The president’s comments came as he confirmed that he was considering a pardon for some 3,000 people who “may have been treated unfairly”, including boxing champion Muhammed Ali.

Speaking to reporters as he left for the G7 summit in Canada, he said: “I’m thinking about somebody that you all know very well, and he went through a lot and he wasn’t very popular then: Muhammad Ali. ”

Ali’s family said in response that his conviction had already been overturned. “We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary. The US supreme court overturned the conviction of Muhammad Ali in a unanimous decision in 1971. There is no conviction from which a pardon is needed,” said Ron Tweel, a lawyer for the Ali family.

The boxer, who died in 2016, was sentenced to five years in prison after refusing to fight in the Vietnam war, but his sentence was never implemented and was overturned in 1971.

Sentence commuted

Mr Trump’s comments came days after he commuted the life sentence of Alice Johnson, an African-American grandmother who was jailed in 1996 for drug offences. The commutation followed an intervention by celebrity Kim Kardashian West, who met Mr Trump in the Oval Office last week.

In a sign that he may be trying to build bridges with the African-American community, Mr Trump also said he would be interested in recommendations from National Football League players about people they believe should be pardoned.

Mr Trump has frequently criticised football players – most of them African-American – who have declined to stand during the national anthem as a protest against injustice towards black Americans in the criminal justice system. Earlier this week he uninvited the Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles to the White House after several members of the team indicated they would not attend.

Conceding that football players had “seen a lot of abuse, they’ve seen a lot of unfairness”, he said on Friday: “I understand that. I’m going to ask them to recommend to me people that were unfairly treated and I’m gonna take a look at those applications,” he said as he left for Canada.

Mr Trump reportedly told Kardashian during their meeting last week that support from her and her husband, Kanye West, had boosted his popularity with African-Americans.

West tweeted his admiration for the US president in April, referring to him as his “brother” who shared his “dragon energy”.

The president referenced West’s comments at a National Rifle Association convention in Dallas last month. “Kanye West must have some power because you probably saw I doubled my African-American poll numbers. We went from 11 to 22 in one week,” he told the crowd.