FBI agents raided the home in Alexandria, Va., of President Trump’s former campaign chairman, arriving in the pre-dawn hours late last month and seizing documents and other materials related to the special counsel investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The raid, which occurred without warning on July 26, signaled an aggressive new approach by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team in dealing with a key figure in the Russia inquiry. Manafort has been under increasing pressure as the Mueller team looked into his personal finances and his professional career as a highly paid foreign political consultant. … The search warrant indicates that investigators may have argued to a federal judge that they had reason to think Manafort could not be trusted to turn over all records in response to a grand jury subpoena.
Social media users rushed forward to point out that later on July 26, Trump lashed out at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for keeping then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe in place. (Trump erroneously asserted Hillary Clinton gave McCabe’s wife $700,000 in campaign donations. In fact, as FactCheck.org notes: “Nearly $675,000 — not $700,000 — donated to Dr. Jill McCabe, who unsuccessfully ran for a Virginia state Senate seat in 2015, came from the Virginia Democratic Party and Common Good VA. The latter is the political action committee of Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime friend and supporter of Hillary and Bill Clinton.” Was Trump peeved at the FBI for its raid on Manafort (assuming, of course, that the president knew about it that very morning, long before The Post’s report)? If so, was this an effort to dissuade McCabe from using aggressive tactics in the future?
Even more intriguing is the search warrant itself. Former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy explained:
Now, a search warrant is issued in a criminal investigation only if a judge finds probable cause that a crime has been committed and that evidence of this crime will be found in the place to be searched. The warrant is granted on the basis of an affidavit — usually drafted by the prosecutor and sworn to by an FBI agent — which tells the court exactly what crimes the agents are investigating and describes for the court the evidence supporting the claim that there is probable cause. Moreover, if agents wish to execute a warrant before 6 a.m., they must show good cause as to why this should be permitted. Generally, the explanation involves danger that evidence will be destroyed, or that agents will be at risk, if people inside the location are awake and alert when the agents knock on the door.
In short, what Trump keeps calling a “witch hunt” is now a fast-moving investigation, which — at least in one respect — has convinced a federal judge that there is critical evidence that must be preserved.
The questions pile up:
- Does the information the FBI was seeking from Manafort relate only to possible lobbying and money-laundering violations? Do they relate in any way to possible cooperation between the campaign and Russian officials? If so, is there any evidence Trump was aware of what Manafort and others were up to?
- If the feds develop a strong case against Manafort, will he be incentivized to implicate others in the campaign?
- Is Michael Flynn already cooperating with Mueller, and if so, what does he know? Were Trump’s efforts to stop the FBI investigation of Flynn aimed at preventing investigators from obtaining information and/or documents relating to the president?
- What financial records about the Trump family finances has Mueller already collected or will be able to obtain? Do those include Trump’s tax returns?
Two things are clear, however. First, Mueller isn’t fooling around and has the resources to follow the facts wherever they lead. Second, Trump and his lawyers, like the rest of us, don’t know for sure where this is all leading — which accounts for Trump’s fury at investigators and obsessive efforts to delegitimize the probe. Unfortunately for him, as each subpoena, search warrant, witness and grand jury hearing comes to light, the public sees this is no “hoax” but a serious, aggressive criminal investigation that can very well end in indictment(s).