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Turns Out There Was Wiretapping In Russia Probe, But Trump Wasn't The Target

Government investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the presidential election. Their investigation continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump. Manafort and Trump continued to speak long after Manafort was forced out of the campaign, and would have continued had their respective attorneys not "insisted that they stop."

According to three sources familiar with the investigation, some of the intelligence collected includes communications which revealed Manafort had encouraged Russian operatives to help with the campaign. Two of these sources cautioned that the evidence is nonconclusive. Investigators have provided details of these communications to Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team.

According to three sources familiar with the investigation, some of the intelligence collected includes communications which revealed Manafort had encouraged Russian operatives to influence the campaign. Two of these sources cautioned that the evidence is nonconclusive. Investigators have provided details of these communications to Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team. CNN broke the story, parts of which were subsequently confirmed by CBS News.

The FBI obtained foreign intelligence surveillance warrants after Manafort became the subject of an investigation that began in 2014. That investigation centered on consulting work done by Washington firms for the pro-Russian party of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Investigators discontinued the surveillance at some point last year for lack of evidence, according to one of the sources, but the FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA warrant) that extended at least into early this year. The second warrant was "part of the FBI's efforts to investigate ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives," according to CNN.

Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent in the counterintelligence division, explained when and why investigators obtain FISA warrants in statements posted to her personal Twitter account:

FISAs are sought when you are seeking foreign intelligence information on a foreign power or agent of a foreign power. Because you are not necessarily intending to gather evidence of a crime the standard is not as high as a criminal wiretap … That is, you don't have to allege a specific crime, but you do have to show that the target is acting on behalf of a foreign power. For U.S. persons … the (standard) is slightly higher: that the target is ‘knowingly engaging in clandestine intelligence activities.’ … Evidence of a crime obtained in the course of a FISA *can* be used in a criminal proceeding.

The New York Times reports this morning that, after agents raided Manafort's home in July, prosecutors on Mueller's team told Manafort that they planned to indict him. Federal investigators decided to pick the lock on Manafort’s front door, citing fears he might destroy evidence:

They took binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files, looking for evidence that Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, set up secret offshore bank accounts. They even photographed the expensive suits in his closet.

Attorneys and witnesses say that Mueller has obtained numerous subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify before a grand jury.

They are setting a tone. It’s important early on to strike terror in the hearts of people in Washington, or else you will be rolled,” said Solomon L. Wisenberg, who was the deputy independent counsel in the investigation that led to the impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton in 1999. “You want people saying to themselves, ‘Man, I had better tell these guys the truth.’”

On top of recent accusations of money laundering, Manafort secretly worked for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to advance the interests of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, according to a March report from The Associated Press.  As early as 2005, Manafort signed a $10 million annual contract with Putin ally Oleg Deripaska to “influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government,” the AP report continues.

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote to Deripaska in a 2005 strategy memo. The effort, he continued, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

In memos, Manafort proposed that Deripaska and Putin would benefit from lobbying Western governments, particularly the U.S., to allow oligarchs to retain formerly state-owned assets in Ukraine. He recommended building “long term relationships” with Western journalists and a multitude of measures to improve recruitment, communications, and financial planning by Russian sympathizers in the region.

Manafort also considered extending his existing work in eastern Europe to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Georgia. He pledged to further legitimize governments friendly to Putin and to undermine anti-Russian figures through political means, nonprofit front groups and media operations.

The AP obtained documents which laid out Manafort’s plans, including strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. It is still unclear how much work he performed while under contract. People familiar with the relationship between the two men, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the secret payments publicly, said money transfers to Manafort amounted to tens of millions of dollars, continuing through at least 2009.

The documents further reveal that Manafort pushed policies as part of his work in Ukraine “at the highest levels of the U.S. government — the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department.” He also said he had hired a “leading international law firm with close ties to President Bush to support our client’s interests.” He did not identify the firm. Manafort also declined to identify legal experts for the effort at leading universities and think tanks, including Duke University, New York University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Manafort never disclosed details about the lobbying work to the Justice Department during the period he worked under contract. Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, people who lobby in the U.S. on behalf of foreign political leaders or political parties must provide detailed reports about their activities to the Justice Department. While failing to register is a felony and can result in imprisonment up to five years and a fine up to $250,000, the government rarely files criminal charges.

When pressed for comment, Manafort confirmed he worked for Deripaska in various countries, but suggested he was the subject of a “smear campaign.” He accused the media of casting his work in an “inappropriate or nefarious” light.

“I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments,” Manafort said at the time. “My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russian political interests.”

Manafort was forced to resign from Trump’s campaign last August amid revelations that he, while working in Ukraine as an international consultant, allegedly pocketed $12.7 million in cash payments from Ukraine’s former ruling party between 2007 and 2012. The report, initially published in the New York Times, asserts that the money could be part of an illegal, off-the-books system. Officials with Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau say the listed payments come from a handwritten ledger used to keep track of off-the-books payouts by former Ukranian president Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian Party of Regions. Manafort’s name appears 22 times in the ledger.