Special counsel Robert Mueller is asking a judge to grant immunity from prosecution for five potential witnesses whose testimony Mueller wants to compel at the upcoming federal criminal trial of former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, according to a court filing Tuesday.
If the five unidentified people are not granted immunity — and compelled to testify against Manafort — they would either refuse to take the witness stand or refuse to answer questions by citing their Fifth Amendment right against being forced to incriminate themselves, according to Mueller's filing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.
Mueller has also asked Judge T.S. Ellis to seal from public view the court motions detailing the witnesses' identities.
"The five individuals identified in the motions at issue are third parties who have not been charged in this matter, and who have not been identified publicly with the case," Mueller's team argued in a filing asking for that sealing order.
"Disclosing the motions would reveal those individuals’ involvement in the investigation and the trial, thereby creating the risk of their undue harassment."
Prosecutors also said that the witnesses could suffer "reputational harm" if their claim of Fifth Amendment protection and grant of immunity were to be revealed publicly.
"Sealing is also appropriate because the information contained in the motions could lead to reputational harm," prosecutors wrote.
Mueller's team noted that if the individuals do testify at Manafort's trial, their identities would become public.
Mueller is asking Ellis to give the witnesses what is known as "use immunity," which would prevent prosecutors from using their testimony as evidence against them in a criminal case, other than one in which they are accused of perjuring themselves in that testimony. The special counsel is not asking for so-called transactional immunity for the witnesses, which would give them protection from being prosecuted ever for the issues mentioned in their immunized testimony.
Manafort's trial on charges that include bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and tax crimes is due to begin July 25 in Alexandria court.
That case, and another pending federal case against him in Washington, D.C., both relate to consulting and lobbying work Manafort did on behalf of pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.
A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment on the motion seeking immunity for the five witnesses.
Manafort's lawyer Jay Nanavati did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Manafort, 69, is currently being held without bail in a jail in Alexandria. His $10 million release bond was revoked by another federal judge last month after Mueller accused him of trying to tamper with potential witnesses.
After his scheduled trial in Alexandria, Manafort is set to go on trial in Washington on Sept. 17.
— Additional reporting by CNBC's Tucker Higgins