Why Did The FBI Wiretap Paul Manafort? Here’s Why It’s Kind Of A Big Deal
Another day, another uncomfortably shady revelation about Donald Trump's presidential campaign and possible connections to Russia. This time, it's the news that FBI investigators wiretapped Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort not once, but two times before and after the presidential election, per a CNN report. The news source reported on Sept. 18 that the surveillance continued into the early part of 2017, when Manafort had long since left the Trump team but was still in communications with the President.
Several sources told CNN that the intelligence which the investigation collected included communications that “sparked concerns… that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign,” though at least two sources specifically added that the evidence wasn't conclusive. Manafort was surveilled under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, which must be backed with information showing suspicion that the subject could be acting as an agent of a foreign power. The warrant must be approved by top officials in the FBI and the Department of Justice.
Notably, there's a big piece of the puzzle missing. CNN reports that the FBI was not surveilling Manafort during the now-infamous meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer with Kremlin connections in June 2016, which then-campaign manager Manafort and Trump's son-in-law and current White House adviser Jared Kushner also attended. But even with the missing pieces, the fact that government investigators were able to get the warrant, with such a high bar for approval, means that things are getting real for the investigation into Trump campaign leaders' dealings with Russia.
Manafort was originally investigated for his alleged shady dealings with former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who was at the head of a pro-Russian party which was driven out in 2014 by civil unrest and street protests. Manafort's firm was accused of lobbying for Yanukovych's interests while failing to register with the U.S. government as a lobbyist for a foreign power. In fact, that accusation is why Manafort left the Trump campaign back in August of 2016, after reports of the connections surfaced.
But if the first warrant was based on his dealings with sketchy oligarchs, the second one is reportedly the more damning.
CNN's sources said that the second warrant, the start date of which is unknown, was based on efforts to investigate possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russian agents. So basically, for the first warrant there needed to be suspicion that Manafort was dealing with the Ukrainians (which, yeah, he was). For the second, investigators needed suspicion he was talking to Russian operatives — which is way more specific, and given Manafort's role in the Trump campaign, could be incredibly damning.
On the other hand, the report also gives some near-credibility to Trump's old claim that former President Barack Obama was wiretapping him (and by "credibility," I mean you have to tilt your head and squint to "see" it).
Back in March, Trump tweeted an accusation that Obama had wiretapped him at his residence at his eponymous Trump Tower shortly before the 2016 election, calling the former president "sick." Representatives of both Obama and the Department of Justice said that the claims were baseless.
While Manafort keeps a residence at Trump Tower, there is still no evidence Trump himself was under surveillance.
Which, however, doesn't mean he wasn't picked up by the surveillance on Manafort. CNN notes that Trump and Manafort continued to communicate for months after Manafort left the campaign, even after the FBI investigation into the former campaign manager became public knowledge. The conversations reportedly continued until lawyers for both men "insisted they stop."
But this isn't even the worst news for Manafort that came out today.
Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russian interference in the election, reportedly told Manafort in July that the investigation planned to indict him, according to The New York Times. Agents reportedly showed up at Manafort's house with a search warrant, combing through his Virginia home and taking away binders of documents, computer files, and even photos of his wardrobe.
A physical search warrant is unusual for someone whose lawyer has already been in touch with the Justice Department, as Manafort's has been — and is an indicator that prosecutors had probable cause to believe that the home contained evidence of a crime, and were concerned about destruction of evidence. As former federal prosecutor Jimmy Gurulé told the Times, “clearly they didn't trust him.”
So, it's not looking good for old Paul, here. To say the least.