The writing on the wall suggests that Paul Manafort is royally screwed. It has been widely reported that Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election has a laser focus on Manafort and his finances, and four stories dropped this week which demonstrate that Mueller’s efforts are based on concrete evidence of a crime(s)—not rumor and innuendo. Let’s begin with two reports from the last two days that seem like they have a cause and effect relationship.
The cause, per The Washington Post:
Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.
“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time.
The effect, per CNN:
US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe.
The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.
Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive.
Getting a wiretap on someone isn’t easy. The fact that one was approved means the FBI provided compelling evidence to a judge that Manafort may have committed a crime(s). Now, before you raise the fact that the FISA court never rejects applications, understand that it’s not that simple. Yes, over 99% of all FISA requests get approved, but that is a function of the system far more than an indicator of how low the bar is to clear. The Feds can withdraw their application for a FISA warrant at any time, which means that warrants which would have been struck down never get that opportunity. It’s like walking into your final exam with an F, withdrawing from the class, and getting an incomplete grade instead.
This wiretap isn’t the only indication that the government has evidence that Manafort did something super illegal. Per the NYT:
Paul J. Manafort was in bed early one morning in July when federal agents bearing a search warrant picked the lock on his front door and raided his Virginia home. 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. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.
Like the order to surveil Manafort, a no-knock warrant is an incredibly high bar to clear, as the Times explained:
To get the warrant, Mr. Mueller’s team had to show probable cause that Mr. Manafort’s home contained evidence of a crime. To be allowed to pick the lock and enter the home unannounced, prosecutors had to persuade a federal judge that Mr. Manafort was likely to destroy evidence.
This is not fake news. These aren’t stories about anonymous sources leaking small details about the investigation. We have concrete evidence that our judicial system suspects that Manafort committed a crime. His spokesman confirmed that Mueller’s agents raided his house, and now the details as to why all of this happened are beginning to come out. Making matters worse, Manafort’s behavior in the wake of all this suggests that he’s either incredibly stupid or incredibly broke. Per another unflattering Times report:
Paul J. Manafort, the former campaign chairman for President Trump who is at the center of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, is working for allies of the leader of Iraq’s Kurdish region to help administer and promote a referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq.
The United States opposes the referendum, but Mr. Manafort has carved out a long and lucrative career advising foreign clients whose interests have occasionally diverged from American foreign policy. And he has continued soliciting international business even as his past international work has become a focus of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into ties between Russia and Mr. Trump and his associates, including possible collusion between them to influence the presidential election.
If you’re under investigation for shady international business ties, why would you seek out more international business ties in the middle of the inquiry? The simplest explanation is that’s how bad Manafort needs the money right now. If this reflects larger financial issues that he had prior to this investigation, then that’s a pretty compelling motive to ascribe to his “if [Deripaska] needs private briefings we can accommodate” message.
The problem that a lot of people have with this whole Russia narrative is that much of the hashtag resistance has made it all about treason on the American side, when it seems like it was all about money. Deripaska accused Manafort of stealing $19 million from him in a 2014 court case in the Cayman Islands, and trading access for cash is a common exchange in this world—which seems to be the implication behind this message.
The last piece of the puzzle that looks truly awful for Manafort is this report released back in May. Per Reuters:
Deripaska, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, recently offered to cooperate with congressional intelligence committees in exchange for full immunity, according to three congressional officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, the Times said.
However, the Senate and House panels rejected his offer because of concerns that immunity agreements create complications for federal criminal investigators, the officials said, according to the Times.
In 2007, Deripaska told the Financial Times “I don’t separate myself from the [Russian] state. I have no other interests.”
So to recap:
1. Manafort seemed to offer information about the 2016 campaign to one of Putin’s closest oligarchs—one that Manafort has worked with for a very long time.
2. The Feds have enough evidence on Manafort to obtain a wiretap on him.
3. They were also able to convince a judge that not only did Manafort potentially have evidence of a crime in his home, but that he would destroy it if he knew investigators were at the door.
4. The oligarch who Manafort offered briefings to has asked for immunity.
We’re officially in a new phase of this investigation. We’re not piecing together circumstantial evidence anymore. We can officially confirm that Robert Mueller has compelling evidence of a crime(s), and the outline of what happened is becoming clearer by the day.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.