CNN is reporting that at various times from 2014 to early 2017, former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort was under electronic surveillance pursuant to a FISA warrant due to his suspicious ties to Russians. The surveillance was suspended for part of 2016 due to lack of evidence, but started again later. Manfort’s communications, and those of Russians also being surveilled, raised concerns among investigators that “Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign.”
This is clearly related to the investigation of collusion by the Trump campaign with Russians that former FBI Chief Comey said started in late July 2016, not much more than a month after the June 9, 2016 secret meeting, including Manafort and Trump Jr., with Russians set up to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. The period included when Manafort was known to be still talking to President Trump, even after no longer being formally involved in the campaign, but CNN did not know if the surveillance included conversations between Manafort and Trump. Some quick thoughts on this.
1. This is the second former Trump campaign official we know of subject to such a FISA warrant. The other was Carter Page who also had the FISA warrants on him issued before he was involved in the Trump campaign.
2. A FISA warrant means a Federal judge determined there was probable cause Paul Manafort (and Carter Page) were knowingly acting as hostile foreign agents against the United States (see below for more on that).
3. Manafort was also the subject of a predawn search warrant of his home in late July. This would have necessitated as separate determination, by an almost certainly different judge, that there was probable cause that evidence of criminality would be found in Manafort’s home. Trump’s former Campaign Chairman is clearly squarely in the crosshairs of this investigation.
To amplify what I meant by “hostile foreign agents against the United States” in #2 above, I’ll quote directly from the FISA statute. To issue a FISA warrant targeting an American citizen a judge must determine there is probable cause the person is an “agent of a foreign power.” For a citizen of the United States that means the judge must find there is probable cause the targeted person:
A) knowingly engages in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of a foreign power, which activities involve or may involve a violation of the criminal statutes of the United States;
B) pursuant to the direction of an intelligence service or network of a foreign power, knowingly engages in any other clandestine intelligence activities for or on behalf of such foreign power, which activities involve or are about to involve a violation of the criminal statutes of the United States;
C) knowingly engages in sabotage or international terrorism, or activities that are in preparation therefor, for or on behalf of a foreign power;
D) knowingly enters the United States under a false or fraudulent identity for or on behalf of a foreign power or, while in the United States, knowingly assumes a false or fraudulent identity for or on behalf of a foreign power; or
(E) knowingly aids or abets any person in the conduct of activities described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C) or knowingly conspires with any person to engage in activities described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C).
For a more detailed explanation of the FISA warrant process see HERE.
Such findings were made repeatedly by judges regarding both Carter Page and Paul Manafort. Manafort’s home was also subject to a separate search warrant requiring a judge’s probable cause determination that evidence of crimes would be found there.
Edit & Update: The NY Times is reporting that Federal Prosecutors have advised Manafort to expect an indictment.
For a comprehensive Russia-gate timeline see HERE.