Rex Tillerson is ready to talk.
Paul Manafort helped chart Donald Trump’s path to White House. But long before the lawyer-slash-lobbyist-turned-campaign chairman was a part of Trump’s team, he was a name known to the FBI.
This week, reports emerged that the intelligence agency has been monitoring Manafort for several years, starting with a warrant that allowed the FBI to look into his work as a consultant with the Ukranian government. Ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, the FBI wiretapped Manafort, according to CNN. And special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, appears to have taken a renewed interest in Manafort.
In July, FBI agents raided Manafort’s home and Mueller’s team could bring charges — although it remains unclear how or if any of the focus on Manafort connects to the broader probe on Russia and the Trump campaign.
For now, Manafort is a man caught in the middle with a lot to answer for. How did he get there?
- Jason Maloni Spokesman for Paul Manafort
- Asha Rangappa Associate dean at Yale Law School. She's also a legal and national security analyst for CNN, and a former FBI agent.
- Susan Hennessey Fellow, Brookings Institute; former National Security Administration attorney.
- Jan Baran Head of the election law group at Wiley Rein LLP; former general counsel, Republican National Committee; author, "The Election Law Primer for Corporations"
- Mark Mazzetti Washington investigations editor, The New York Times; author, "The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth."
Paul Manafort's Spokesman Speaks
In an interview on 1A, a spokesman for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort avoided discussing a number of questions about the longtime political operative’s overseas dealings, and said the FBI’s multi-year surveillance of Manafort — some of which may be related to the investigation into Russian election meddling — is a political ploy.
“Paul’s feeling is this is entirely politically motivated,” said spokesman Jason Maloni on 1A. “The Obama administration sought to surveil a political opponent.”
However, a warrant for the type of surveillance the FBI conducted of Manafort would have to be approved by senior FBI and Department of Justice officials. Reports this week revealed that the FBI had a FISA warrant to wiretap Manafort beginning in 2014 over his work with the Ukrainian government.
Maloni went on to say that the lack of charges brought against Manafort were proof nothing nefarious was found through the FBI surveillance, which stopped in 2016 before starting again and continuing into this year. But FISA warrants are not meant to generate criminal indictments. The fact that no criminal charges have been brought “actually means that it’s working the way it’s supposed to,” Yale Law School associate dean and former FBI agent Asha Rangappa told 1A. “You actually have to go back to the court every 90 days and demonstrate that you’ve been getting foreign intelligence as you said that you would be,” Rangappa added.
Maloni declined to address a Washington Post report that said Manafort offered to give a Russian billionaire private briefings on the 2016 campaign. Maloni said he would rather see an investigation into who leaked the fact Manafort, whose home was raided earlier this year as part of the Russia investigation, was under surveillance at all.
Maloni himself is involved in the FBI’s Russian probe. He testified last week in U.S. District Court before a grand jury as part of the investigation, but declined to tell reporters what he was asked.
Here is the full interview with Maloni: (Please note, this transcript was made with the aide of a computer program. Please compare to the recording of the show, available above)
How is Mr. Manafort doing? He’s gotta be feeling a little bit of this pressure. Where is he these days? What’s he up to?
He’s doing just fine and and it’s certainly been a flurry of activity. We’re following it closely, but I think it’s a long, long way from being resolved.
Why does your client believed that investigators are so focused on him? What is his take on why he seems to be under such scrutiny?
Well, his take is his take, but the development that occurred earlier this week, that CNN unveiled, is all you need to know about this case. I mean what we know about — when CNN’s story broke about the revelations about not one, but two, FISA warrants. That made this crystal clear, a political story. I know Paul’s feeling is — and I’m delighted to offer my observations — but Paul’s feeling is this is entirely politically motivated.
Here’s what we know as a result of CNN’s piece: the Obama administration sought to surveil a political opponent. Not once, but twice. And not once, but twice, found there was nothing on any conversations worthy of a case. That is significant. I mean the revelation that somebody revealed this fact is huge. Comey himself — James Comey said in March 2017 — that it’s a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant.
So then if this is politically motivated under the Obama administration and Donald Trump is president now, why do you think it’s happening now?
Well the FISA, the second FISA warrant, according to CNN, was put in place in the fall and continued through the early 2017. And again nothing was found on any of these tapes, nothing was found on any of these intercepts and why it’s coming to light now is for someone to investigate. Paul Manafort earlier in the week begged, said “please, somebody conduct an investigation.”
First of all, who revealed the fact that one of the most classified and valuable tools at our intelligence community’s disposal, the FISA court, why was this violated? And who’s behind it and why? Those are questions that need to be answered.
I hear you on that, although I wonder about Robert Mueller’s involvement now. I imagine if this was purely politically motivated — and Bob Mueller is not a newcomer to federal investigation — that the investigation might not have had such intense energy around your client, such as the FBI raided his home in Virginia. You don’t really think that every single thing that’s happened since the Obama administration has been purely political, do you?
I think it remains to be seen and hopefully the Department of Justice Inspector General is going to look into it and look into who’s behind these leaks. Again, Comey said the point of a FISA court is to protect the identity of US citizens and it’s not lost on reporters I speak with and people who have contacted me that somebody violated this very important tool. That needs to be looked into and hopefully that will happen.
Additionally, Paul said, “If you have intercepts, we don’t need to worry about every drift that occurs day-by-day about calls and conversations that may have happened. Please, release the transcripts; release the intercepts; let people judge for themselves.” He’s that confident there’s nothing there and certainly the FBI agreed because no charges were ever brought as a result of these FISA intercepts.
Let me get through some of the reports that have come out. I’d like to get your take on them and maybe we can hit several of them kind of quickly. There’s this Washington Post story from last night that said that Mr. Manafort apparently, allegedly, tried to offer briefings on the presidential race to a Russian billionaire. Can you shed any light on that?
Well, I’ll say two things about that. This all comes from the same 20,000 records, the same tranche of materials the campaign recently provided to Congress. Within that same tranche of materials was an exchange where a campaign staffer offered to set up a meeting with Vladimir Putin. And Paul is on those emails — the story was written in early August — clearly rejecting any overture by Russia to set up any sort of face-to-face with Donald Trump.
So you’re saying the Washington Post story is untrue?
Not saying the Washington Post story is untrue. What nobody disputes, and what is widely known, is that Paul was owed money. And I want to be really clear here. He didn’t owe money. He was owed money from past clients. And the email exchange, a snippet of this email exchange, simply lays out the fact that he’s trying to get his debts paid. I’ve seen some snippets of emails. The Washington Post didn’t actually have the emails themselves but it’s emails from a former colleague, a former employee of his, in the Ukraine.
I have to say, Mr. Maloni, I appreciate your goal to try to be clear about this story. Can we be clear about the core detail? Did Mr. Manafort offer briefings on the presidential race to this Russian billionaire? Yeah or no?
Joshua, I don’t — I’m not even gonna get into that but you know what Paul has asked?
Okay, then we should move on to something else because it’s a real simple question and I would really like a direct answer.
It is a real simple question but let the transcripts of any intercepts be revealed. Release the emails. Let people make up their own minds.
Let me ask you about the Kurdish independence referendum. The New York Times is reporting that Mr. Manafort spent the last few months helping the Kurds with this referendum. The U.S. opposes it out of concern for destabilizing Iraq further. Now, you have told the Times that Mr. Manafort does not discuss his current or future clients so I don’t really want to retread that ground with you but I wonder what your client’s view is on this report. It kind of casts him as a sort of political mercenary.
Joshua, I’m not going to discuss his current work or his future work. If there’s anything that he needs to register for FARA for, he will. He’ll comply.
Talk about how your client chooses his clients. What are his standards? What are his boundaries? What are his goals?
I’m thinking … You know, if you’d like to get into some of his activities in Ukraine, I’m happy to. But his principles are his principles. The man is highly sought after. He’s very very smart. He’s been in this business a long, long time and he knows how to conduct himself. And because of his success, that he’s enjoyed certainly with the Trump campaign, people are going to seek him out.
Is this the kind of work that would be outside the bounds for Mr. Manafort? This work with the Kurdish independence referendum?
I’m not going to discuss his current work or his future work.
I’m not asking you to talk about what he’s doing. I’m just, I mean, you’re his spokesman. You’re supposed to be inside this guy’s head. I’m trying to get a sense of who this person is because this perception is building among the American people that Paul Manafort is untoward. And if that’s not so, I would like you to help me break that down.
Paul is going to be delighted to have all the facts come out in the future. I think what should be very, very concerning is that political motivations were behind the FISA warrant and that Paul was surveilled by political opponents. And you mentioned earlier the search of his home. I mean, these are tactics that are reserved for violent offenders. People should be shocked. Whatever you think of Paul Manafort, whatever anyone’s opinion is of him, if you were upset when Valerie Plame’s identity was revealed, if you were upset when Chelsea Manning provided sensitive military documents to WikiLeaks, you should be equally disgusted at the treatment of Paul Manafort and the fact that he was surveilled by political opponents.
Or perhaps we would be equally disgusted if Paul Manafort might have helped the Russians to influence the American election. Does that make sense to you?
Paul Manafort did nothing to collude with the Russians to influence the election. He’d be delighted to speak about that. He actually volunteered, was the first to volunteer, to go before Congress and discuss this.
Well then what do you, if Mr. Manafort —
Hold on a minute Joshua, let me get to —
No, I beg your pardon Mr. Maloni. This program has one moderator. If Mr. Manafort is so certain, then I wonder what your take is on why all of this smoke seems to be surrounding him.
You know, they say where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And it is entirely possible that your client is innocent of all of this. Innocent until proven guilty. I totally get that. But there are a lot of people who are kind of watching this and just sort of waiting for the final shoe to drop. What are we not hearing about Paul Manafort that might help convince us, rank-and-file people, that your client really is on the up-and-up?
Paul Manafort is a proud American and he’s served his country, both in past elections and various political candidates throughout our history. He’s been in this business for 40 years. He has cooperated from the beginning — volunteering to come to Congress, revealing the June ninth meeting with Donald Trump Jr., providing reams of documents for the investigation.
Until he got a very, very clear signal he shouldn’t cooperate, when federal agents woke him in the morning on the day he was expected to testify with the Senate Judiciary Committee. Knocked on his bedroom door and roused him and his wife up from their sleep. Now, people are not necessarily wearing suits in the morning. They were frisked. They were manhandled and this is shocking.
I’m sorry, Mr. Maloni. My question was: what are we not hearing? What do we not yet know about Paul Manafort that might help us believe that he’s really on the up-and-up? Give me something new.
I’m not certain how to answer your question. I think Paul would love to be able to discuss the details you’re looking for but the signals that have been clearly stands from various investigators do not bode well for someone who has tried to cooperate and volunteer information in the past.
Tell me why he should. Tell me how it benefits him that he’s provided as much clarity as he possibly can to investigate. What did Russia do to undermine our 2016 election? Because we’re still not even closer to that answer. That is the question.
Would you convey to Mr. Manafort our invitation to appear on this program and speak for himself?
We would love to speak to him and I think, I’m assuming, from your perspective of the spokesman. Does he understand why people are so exercised about this? Does he understand the controversy like why it’s existing. Forget about the politics. I mean every day people.
I think, I think he understands. And I recognize and acknowledge that there is a tremendous amount of attention, particularly inside Washington, on the details that are unfolding about this event.
Well I certainly do hope you’ll convey the invitation. He is more than welcome to appear on this program anytime, but until then, I appreciate the information you’ve provided. That’s Jason Maloni, spokesman for Paul Manafort. Mr. Maloni I really do appreciate your time. Thanks for talking to us.
Thank you, Joshua.
Here is the transcript of the conversation that followed, with Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, Jan Baran of the election law group at Wiley Rein LLP, Susan Hennessey from the Brookings Institution and Asha Rangappa, the Associate Dean at Yale Law School.
Mazzetti: You know, we’ve dealt with Jason Maloney a fair amount over the months and his answers are consistent with what we’ve spoken to him about. You know, he did spend a good deal of time casting the CNN story about the supposed FISA warrant in starkly political terms — that it was a political operation against a political opponent of the Obama administration.
Now, the Times has not confirmed the CNN report about the FISA warrant. The story said that the original FISA warrant was brought in connection to an investigation to his Ukraine work and then was not — was dropped during his time in the campaign and picked up again in the midst of FBI concerns about Russian collusion. So you could argue one way or the other about its political nature, but there’s still a lot more detail that needs to be learned about this.
Asha, What about you?
Rangappa: I want to clarify a bunch of things that were inaccurate.
What rises to the top of the list of what needs clarification?
Rangappa: So let’s just go down the list here. FISAs are not meant to collect evidence for criminal charges. So they are for foreign intelligence. You’re trying to find out what spies or terrorists are up to. The information that you get is not intended to ever see the inside of a courtroom so the fact that no criminal charges were brought as a result of the FISA does not mean anything. That actually means that it’s working the way it’s supposed to. You would get a totally different kind of surveillance eavesdropping-wiretap-warrant under criminal standards, which are much higher, if you were going to look for evidence of criminal activity.
The second thing I would say is that when you get a FISA on a US person, you actually have to go back to the court every 90 days and demonstrate that you’ve been getting foreign intelligence, as you said that you would be, and then the court will approve another 90 days.
So the fact that one FISA stopped is not as meaningful if you look at the length of time. If it had been renewed before that — at any point or multiple times — that means that there was foreign intelligence being gained. And the fact that it was stopped just means that that source dried up. In fact, from an intelligence point of view, if that was consistent with him starting to meet with the Russians then that would make sense. They would probably move him to other channels of communication so you would stop getting, you know, intelligence and then you would figure out where else they’re communicating and then you would go back up on those channels.
I’m sorry, let me give Susan Hennessy and Jan a chance to jump in. Susan?
Hennessey: You know – I think there’s – Mr. Maloni sort of sort of characterized this stuff as crystal clear political motivation and that’s just not true. So we talked about the fact that the US government has obtained not one, but two FISA warrants. So in order to obtain a FISA warrant on a US person, and Paul Manafort is a US person, you have to demonstrate to a judge — a federal judge, Article 3, regular sort of judge — probable cause.
The government has to show probable cause that the individual is the agent of a foreign power. The way that’s defined underneath the statute, that essentially means the government has to show probable cause that an individual engages in sort of clandestine intelligence gathering for, or on behalf of, a foreign power and that that activity does or probably involves the violations of criminal statutes in the United States.
So while these are distinct standards from the world of criminal law or ordinary wiretaps, the mere fact that the government was able to show this standard is itself significant. It also occurs in a context that is non-political, right? Sort of within the judiciary.
Now, Mr. Maloni is certainly right that these are very, very serious leaks. FISA information should be protected, not just for sources and methods reasons, but also because, look, it’s a civil liberties violation for sort of this information to be leaked clearly for damaging — in order to damage the reputation or raise these questions.
Now that’s different — you know, you can condemn the leaks without saying that that’s evidence that the fact that this surveillance was undertaken was somehow political.
And Jan? Before we have to pause.
Baran: I think that one of the things that’s important is the timing of the revelation, which occurred in 2014, the FISA warrant. That’s two years before Paul Manafort started working on the Trump Campaign and that’s important for several reasons.
One is it suggests there are many other reasons why law enforcement may want to investigate Mr. Manafort. It could be his failure to register under FARA. It could be because he received enormous amounts of money, which he may not have paid taxes on. It may be maybe because he had foreign bank accounts. So there’s a lot going on here besides Mr. Mueller’s investigation.
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