Things have gone from bad to worse for Trump officials targeted in Russia probe

September 18, 2017, 9:14pm

Things are going from bad to worse for the Trump officials caught in the crosshairs of a federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election as bad news leaked about both Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn on Monday.

U.S. investigators wiretapped Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman, both before and after the 2016 election, CNN reported Monday, due to their suspicions over his ties to Ukrainian and Russian operatives. And in July, after conducting a raid on his Virginia home, prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller also warned Manafort that he’d soon be indicted, the New York Times reported on Monday.

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Meanwhile, ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn — who, like Manafort, is also the subject of several other federal probes — revealed Monday just how pricy such investigations can be when you’re the target. Flynn, who reportedly has more than seven lawyers working on his core legal team, tweeted out a link to a fund set up to help defray what his benefactors called the “tremendous costs of legal representation.”

Manafort was first put under an FBI wiretap after he became the subject of a 2014 investigation into consulting work done by Washington firms on behalf of Ukraine’s former ruling party, sources told CNN. That surveillance reportedly lasted until last year, when it was discontinued for lack of evidence.

The FBI again wiretapped Manafort after the election, after the bureau became concerned about communications between Manafort and people it believed to be Russian intelligence operatives.

It’s not clear whether FBI investigators may have listened in on any talks Manafort held with President Donald Trump, who once tweeted that President Barack Obama had Trump Tower’s “wires tapped.” (In any case, a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court would have to grant a wiretap warrant, not the president.) But CNN reported that they didn’t hear the June 2016 meeting between Manafort, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer who said she could give the Trump campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Manafort, who’s said he never “knowingly” spoke with Russian spies, is now reportedly under investigation for possibly violating tax laws and requirements about disclosing foreign lobbying of tax laws, as well as prohibitions against money laundering.

And the feds seem convinced they’re going to find something in Manafort’s case. In order to pick the lock of Manafort’s Virginia home and execute the search warrant, investigators had to persuade a judge of two things — that Manafort’s home contained probable evidence of a crime and that Manafort would likely destroy evidence.

Not only is getting such a search warrant extremely unusual, but issuing subpoenas to Manafort’s associates instead of asking them to voluntarily come in for an interview — as Mueller’s team has reportedly done repeatedly — is also surprisingly hostile.

“They seem to be pursuing this more aggressively, taking a much harder line, than you’d expect to see in a typical white-collar case,” Jimmy Gurulé, a former federal prosecutor and current Notre Dame law professor, told the New York Times. “This is more consistent with how you’d go after an organized crime syndicate.”