The Russia Connection

If the Government Surveilled Manafort, It Wasn't About Politics

By Susan Hennessey, Benjamin Wittes
Wednesday, October 4, 2017, 3:41 PM

On our Foreign Policy feed, we unpack a busy week of reports about Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and address the merits of his spokesman's claim that this is all about politics. The article begins:

It’s been a bad few weeks for Paul Manafort.

First, CNN reported that U.S. government investigators obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to wiretap the former Trump campaign chairman both before and after the 2016 presidential election. The Wall Street Journal later reported a slight variation on that story. According to the Journal, while the government did obtain a warrant to surveil Manafort, it was not for real-time communications monitoring and may have instead covered requests for communications, probably email, stored in the cloud.

The CNN story touched off a torrent of additional Manafort scoops. The New York Times reported that in addition to a no-knock search warrant executed at his home, law enforcement searched a storage locker belonging to Manafort, and prosecutors informed him they intended to seek an indictment. The Washington Post followed with the revelation that during the campaign, Manafort had offered private briefings about the election to a Russian oligarch in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. The Times reported that Manafort also recently started getting paid to advocate for a referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq, a development opposed by the United States. Today, the Atlantic reported the details of Manafort’s email exchanges with the Russian oligarch’s staff.

And to all this, Manafort’s spokesman Jason Maloni has a “crystal clear” explanation: mere politics.

Telling NPR that the CNN story is “all you need to know about this case,” Maloni argued that the fact the government obtained “not one but two FISA warrants” proved the investigation was “entirely politically motivated.” He claimed “the Obama administration sought to surveil a political opponent” and that “what should be very, very concerning is that political motivations were behind the FISA warrant.”

We’re not sure what to make of the Manafort FISA story — except that insofar as he is alleging political espionage against Manafort, Maloni is almost surely full of beans. Let’s unpack the story a bit.