Robert Mueller
Credit: Pete Souza/Wikimedia Commons

Both CNN and the New York Times published stories recently about the role of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort in the current Russia investigation. In the latter, we learn that sources told the Times that, after receiving a warrant to search Manafort’s home, prosecutors told him that Mueller’s team planned to indict him. The folks at Lawfare Blog suggest that this story probably came from someone on the defense side. While we have no proof of that, the message of the entire article is how aggressive prosecutors are being in their investigation of this case, which lends some credence to the idea that it came from Manafort’s team.

We learn a bit more from the CNN scoop. Apparently Manafort has been the subject of surveillance on two occasions. The first was back in 2014 and unrelated to his work on the Trump campaign.

The FBI interest in Manafort dates back at least to 2014, partly as an outgrowth of a US investigation of Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president whose pro-Russian regime was ousted amid street protests. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions was accused of corruption, and Ukrainian authorities claimed he squirreled millions of dollars out of the country.

The second started sometime after June 2016.

It is unclear when the new warrant started. The FBI interest deepened last fall because of intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves, that reignited their interest in Manafort, the sources told CNN. As part of the FISA warrant, CNN has learned that earlier this year, the FBI conducted a search of a storage facility belonging to Manafort. It’s not known what they found.

Of course, the second round of surveillance will ultimately be of more significance to the Trump/Russia probe. But the leakers didn’t provide any information about the content that was gathered—other than the reference to the fact that it led to the search of a storage facility.

To avoid getting too far ahead of this story, it is simply important to point out that we now know of at least two members of Trump’s campaign who had previously been investigated for ties to Russian interests: Carter Page and Paul Manafort. Of course there is also Michael Flynn, but that investigation came later. CNN reminds us of what is required in order to gain a warrant for this kind of surveillance.

Such warrants require the approval of top Justice Department and FBI officials, and the FBI must provide the court with information showing suspicion that the subject of the warrant may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.

It is Mueller’s task to determine whether or not there is evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 election. That second round of surveillance on Manafort could certainly go a long way in proving a connection. In the meantime, we can notice that the president not only has consistently defended the interests of Vladimir Putin, but his campaign gravitated towards people who had previously been the subject of investigations as possible Russian agents. That hardly looks like a coincidence.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.