The Daily 202: Mueller tightening the screws on Manafort – Washington Post

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With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: Could there be tapes after all?

Two stories that popped overnight suggest that special counsel Robert Mueller is aggressively pursuing Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President Trump’s campaign.

— CNN reports that “U.S. investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election”: “The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump. Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation …

“A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014,” per Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz and Pamela Brown. “It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine’s former ruling party … The surveillance was discontinued at some point last year for lack of evidence … The FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year. … Sources say the second warrant was part of the FBI’s efforts to investigate ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives. 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.”

— The CNN story, parts of which were subsequently confirmed by CBS News, raises a host of fresh questions. Among them:

  • Was Trump himself picked up on any of the surveillance? CNN says that’s “unclear.” But it’s been widely reported that Manafort and Trump continued to talk after the inauguration and after it was reported that Manafort was under FBI investigation.
  • When exactly did the second FISA warrant start? The reporters couldn’t figure that out.
  • What did FBI agents find when, as part of the FISA warrant, they conducted a search of a storage facility belonging to Manafort earlier this year?

— The New York Times reports on its front page this morning that, after agents raided his home with a no-knock search warrant this summer, Mueller’s prosecutors told Manafort that they planned to indict him. The story says the feds decided to pick the lock on Manafort’s front door in Alexandria, Va., because they feared he might try to destroy evidence: “They took binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files, looking for evidence that Mr. Manafort … set up secret offshore bank accounts. They even photographed the expensive suits in his closet.”

Sharon LaFraniere, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman include these detail in a larger piece on Mueller’s “shock and awe” tactics: “Mr. Mueller has obtained a flurry of subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify before a grand jury, lawyers and witnesses say, sometimes before his prosecutors have taken the customary first step of interviewing them. One witness was called before the grand jury less than a month after his name surfaced in news accounts. The special counsel even took the unusual step of obtaining a subpoena for one of Mr. Manafort’s former lawyers, claiming an exception to the rule that shields attorney-client discussions from scrutiny.” As points of comparison, The Times notes, Ken Starr and Patrick Fitzgerald never executed search warrants during their politically charged investigations in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

Mueller’s team has shown far more deference to current White House officials than associates of Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn: “At least three witnesses have recently been subpoenaed to testify about Mr. Manafort: Jason Maloni, a spokesman who appeared before the grand jury for more than two hours on Friday, and the heads of two consulting firms — Mercury Public Affairs and the Podesta Group — who worked with Mr. Manafort on behalf of Viktor F. Yanukovych, the pro-Russia former president of Ukraine. Mr. Mueller’s team also took the unusual step of issuing a subpoena to Melissa Laurenza, a specialist in lobbying law who formerly represented Mr. Manafort … Conversations between lawyers and their clients are normally considered bound by attorney-client privilege, but there are exceptions when lawyers prepare public documents that are filed on behalf of their client.”

— Neither Manafort nor Mueller commented for either the CNN or NYT stories. Manafort has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. 

— Flynn, for his part, tweeted yesterday for the first time since December in order to promote his legal defense fund:



— What does it mean that Manafort was informed he would be indicted? On the Lawfare Institute’s fantastic blog, Susan Hennessey, Shannon Togawa Mercer and Benjamin Wittes parse the story: “The Times’ revelation … involves a pretty spare set of reported facts. … The language here is not legally precise. It could mean that Manafort has been formally informed that he is an investigative ‘target’ — a designation that means that prosecutors intend to ask a grand jury to indict him. It could, instead, suggest something less than that — a kind of verbal aggressiveness designed to put pressure on him to cooperate…

“The significance of this is that it means that (Mueller’s) investigation has reached a critical stage — the point at which he may soon start making allegations in public,” per Lawfare. “Those allegations may involve conduct unrelated to L’Affaire Russe — that is, alleged bad behavior by Manafort and maybe others that does not involve the Trump campaign — but which may nonetheless serve to pressure Manafort to cooperate on matters more central. Or they may involve conduct that involves his behavior with respect to the campaign itself. Note that if Manafort cooperates, we may not see anything public for a long time to come. Delay, that is, may be a sign of success. But in the absence of cooperation, the fireworks may be about to begin.

— Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and partner at Thompson Coburn, tweeted 28 times about the stories. Here are the highlights: “We now know the Mueller probe will likely result in charges. More importantly, the tactic that Mueller is using — telling Manafort that he will be charged — is generally used when prosecutors are trying to get a defendant to ‘flip.’ This strongly suggests what we’ve long expected — that Mueller is trying to ‘flip’ Manafort. What causes a target to ‘flip’? The #1 factor is assembling sufficient evidence to make it likely that the person will be convicted and serve a prison sentence. Mueller’s team is being as aggressive as possible to indicate to Manafort that he should be concerned about that possibility. Subpoenaing Manafort’s aides and his lawyer … shows his focus on Manafort.”

— Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent in the counterintelligence division, explained the process for getting FISA orders in a tweetstorm of her own: “FISAs are sought when you are seeking foreign intelligence information on a foreign power or agent of a foreign power. Because you are not necessarily intending to gather evidence of a crime the standard is not as high as a criminal wiretap … That is, you don’t have to allege a specific crime, but you do have to show that the target is acting on behalf of a foreign power. For U.S. persons … the (standard) is slightly higher: that the target is ‘knowingly engaging in clandestine intelligence activities.’ … Evidence of a crime obtained in the course of a FISA *can* be used in a criminal proceeding.”

— There are two buzzy quotes from outside voices in the Times piece:

  • “They are setting a tone. It’s important early on to strike terror in the hearts of people in Washington, or else you will be rolled,” said Solomon L. Wisenberg, who was deputy independent counsel in the investigation that led to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999. “You want people saying to themselves, ‘Man, I had better tell these guys the truth.’
  • “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,” said Jimmy Gurulé, a Notre Dame law professor and former federal prosecutor. “This is more consistent with how you’d go after an organized crime syndicate.

— Preet Bharara, who was fired by Trump as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is heartened by Mueller’s quick pace:

— Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, was in the JAG Corps as an Air Force officer:

— Norm Eisen was Barack Obama’s White House ethics czar:

— A former spokesman for the Justice Department questioned Trump’s continued communications with Manafort:


— Breitbart is spinning the CNN story that Manafort was being surveilled as validation of Trump’s claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped. Back under the control of Steve Bannon, the banner headline on the site is: “CNN Admits Trump Campaign Was Wiretapped: Breitbart News and Mark Levin Right, Mainstream Media Wrong.”

— National Review’s David French (who is an accomplished lawyer in his own right): “If you read the CNN report closely, you’ll note that there is much that is ‘unclear’ (to use CNN’s words.) The new FISA warrant was allegedly related to suspected contacts between Manafort and Russian operatives, but it’s unclear where his phones were tapped, or if they actually swept up conversations with Trump. … None of this means that Manafort is actually guilty of anything, but only the most mindless, tribal partisan would look at these developments with anything but concern and alarm. Potential corruption that close to the president — especially when connected with our nation’s chief geopolitical foe — is deeply problematic.”

— The headline on the Daily Caller is “Mo Mana, Mo Problems”: “The development is not unexpected, even within the sprawling network of former Trump aides and outside advisors. Several sources close to the president, including veterans of the campaign, told The Daily Caller early in September that they expect Manafort will be indicted for financial crimes like money-laundering or tax evasion.”


— Slate: “Today’s Impeach-O-Meter: Paul Manafort Appears to Be in Some Pretty Hot Water.”

— Vice News: “Things have gone from bad to worse for Trump officials targeted in Russia probe.”

— Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall writes that “it is hard to know precisely what to make of (CNN’s) revelation”: “Just when the FISA warrant was granted is not clear from the report. But the precise date would tell us a lot. … A key detail to know is whether the warrant was issued perhaps later in June of 2016 or much later in the campaign after Manafort was dismissed in August. By my read the article is not clear on whether the warrant was issued while Manafort was still working on the campaign.”


— “House and Senate investigators have grown increasingly concerned that Facebook is withholding key information that could illuminate the shape and extent of a Russian propaganda campaign aimed at tilting the U.S. presidential election,” The Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg report. “Among the information Capitol Hill investigators are seeking is the full internal draft report from an inquiry the company conducted this spring into Russian election meddling but did not release at the time. … A 13-page ‘white paper’ that Facebook published in April drew from this fuller internal report but left out critical details about how the Russian operation worked and how Facebook discovered it, according to people briefed on its contents. Investigators believe the company has not fully examined all potential ways that Russians could have manipulated Facebook’s sprawling social media platform. …

“A particularly sore point among Hill investigators is that Facebook has shared more extensive information — including ads bought through fake Russian accounts — with (Mueller) … Some members of the House and Senate intelligence committees were irritated that Facebook staff showed them copies of the ads but would not let the committees keep the documents for further study. … The investigators’ frustrations follow Facebook’s announcement earlier this month that accounts traced to a shadowy Russian Internet company had purchased at least $100,000 in ads during the 2016 election season. Congressional investigators are questioning whether the Facebook review that yielded those findings was sufficiently thorough. They said some of the ad purchases that Facebook has unearthed so far had obvious Russian fingerprints, including Russian addresses and payments made in rubles…”

— The congressional investigations continue to pursue other angles, as well. Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is expected to be interviewed today by Senate Intelligence committee staffers. It is a voluntary sit-down, and he won’t be under oath.

— Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is not ruling out questioning the legitimacy of the election if more information emerges that Russia played a bigger role than currently known. Terry Gross asked the 2016 Democratic nominee on NPR yesterday. “No, I wouldn’t rule it out,” she said.


— “A revitalized Russian military on Monday sent tanks, paratroopers, artillery, antiaircraft weapons, jets and helicopters into frigid rains to engage the forces of a mock enemy called the ‘Western Coalition,’” David Filipov, Michael Birnbaum and Andrew Roth report: “The barrage of firepower, part of war games that began last week, was an explosive show of force that Baltic leaders said was a simulation of an attack against NATO forces in Eastern Europe. [Vladimir Putin] visited the field Monday, skipping the 72nd United Nations General Assembly in favor of the military exercises held jointly with Belarus. The muscle-flexing, which began Thursday, highlights the lethality of a fighting force that has taken a crash course of reforms and upgrades over the last decade. … [And] the Baltic countries that would be on the front lines of any potential Western conflict with Russia say that the exercises are only nominally about separatism and are mainly intended to leave them rattled.”


— Hurricane Maria made landfall in the Caribbean island Dominica overnight. Jason Samenow reports: “The extremely dangerous storm, now a Category 4 hurricane with 155-mph winds, has the potential to cause widespread destruction along its path from the central Lesser Antilles through Puerto Rico. ‘Maria is forecast to remain an extremely dangerous Category 4 or 5 hurricane while it approaches the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,’ the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday … At 9:35 p.m. Monday, the storm made landfall in Dominica, causing widespread damages as it plowed west-northwest at 9 mph. It was the first Category 5 storm to strike Dominica in recorded history. The country’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, said in a Facebook post that “We have lost all that money can buy … 

“On Tuesday, Maria is predicted to mostly pass through a patch of the Caribbean free of islands before potentially closing in on St. Croix, now under a hurricane warning, late in the day or at night. This island was one of the few U.S. Virgin Islands that was spared Irma’s wrath, but may well get hammered by Maria.”

Meanwhile, Jose lostsome of its tropical characteristics” and “is expected to behave like a strong nor’easter along the coast of the Northeast, from near Long Island to eastern Massachusetts. The tropical storm watch was upgraded to a warning for coastal Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts, the areas most likely to be substantially impacted by Jose. A tropical storm watch continues for areas to the south down to eastern Long Island. Farther south, along the New Jersey and Delaware coastline, the tropical storm watch was dropped.”


  1. Donald Trump Jr. has reportedly requested to end his Secret Service protection. The president’s son has complained to friends about the lack of privacy stemming from the protection, but it was unclear whether the request extended to his wife and their five children. (Carol D. Leonnig)
  2. British media reported details of the two men arrested in connection with last week’s London subway bombing. One of the men appears to be 21-year-old Yahyah Farroukh, whose social media pages suggest he is from Damascus. The other man, whose name has not been reported, is an 18-year-old who was detained Saturday in southeastern England. (William Booth)
  3. Conservative activist Scottie Nell Hughes filed a lawsuit against Fox News, alleging she had been raped by longtime anchor Charles Payne and was subsequently blacklisted by the network after coming forward with her claim. (New York Times)
  4. Equifax’s chief information officer and chief security officer are retiring. The news comes one week after the credit reporting bureau disclosed its massive data breach. (Hamza Shaban)
  5. The Veterans Affairs Department reported that veterans are 20 percent more likely than nonveterans to commit suicide. The figure was reported in a Friday news release at the close of business. (Foreign Policy)
  6. Toys ‘R’ Us has filed for bankruptcy. The company’s 1,600 stores will continue to operate normally. (Travis M. Andrews)
  7. U2 canceled a planned concert in St. Louis due to the city’s ongoing protests over the acquittal of a former police officer who shot a black driver. The band was scheduled to play at the Dome at America’s Center on Saturday. (Ellen McCarthy)
  8. Meghan McCain is in late-stage talks to join ABC’s “The View.” McCain announced last week that she was leaving Fox News and Jedediah Bila, who served as “The View’s” conservative panelist, just announced her departure from the show. (CNNMoney)
  9. Stanislav Petrov, a Russian lieutenant colonel credited with helping the world avert nuclear war, died at 77. Petrov correctly identified a satellite signal indicating a nuke sent from the United States to Eastern Europe as a false alarm. (Harrison Smith)


— Momentum seems to be picking up for the latest Republican health-care proposal, which would roll back Obamacare by giving much of its money in block grants to the states. Mitch McConnell has said he will put the measure — spearheaded by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — on the Senate floor if it can garner 50 votes and succeed, which is still an iffy proposition. The GOP doesn’t have a lot of time — it must pass the measure by Sept. 30 when special budget rules expire allowing it to rely only on Republican votes. 

— The bill goes even further in slashing Medicaid than the failed McConnell measure did. The Health 202 Paige Winfield Cunningham explains: “[The measure would also] aim the cuts more directly at states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. It was the governors and senators from those states who were most deeply worried about Medicaid cuts to begin with. In fact, compared with both the House and Senate health-care bills, the Graham-Cassidy measure would more drastically remold the ACA by giving states virtually unlimited control over federal dollars currently being spent on marketplace subsidies and Medicaid expansion. It would also allow states to opt out of virtually all of the ACA’s insurer regulations by obtaining waivers.” 

— The state of play, via Sean Sullivan and Kelsey Snell: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) reiterated yesterday that he would oppose the measure, and the three Republican senators who voted against the defeated bill were noncommittal. “[Sen. John] McCain [R-Ariz] warned against rushing ahead. ‘We just need to have a regular process rather than, “Hey I’ve got an idea, let’s run this through the Senate and give them an up-or-down vote,” ’ he said. [Sen. Lisa] Murkowski [R-Alaska] said she was trying to learn more about the proposal’s impact on Alaska and consulting with her governor. On her way to McConnell’s office Monday afternoon, she wouldn’t say whether she was leaning for or against the bill. [Sen. Susan] Collins [R-Maine], who is seen by many Republicans as the strongest opponent of replacing the ACA, said Monday that she worries that millions could lose coverage under the new plan.”

Murkowski is the one to watch. “A Republican senator who has spoken to GOP leaders said Murkowski is likely the bellwether. This senator said that GOP leaders believe other undecided senators will support the bill if it is put on the floor and that McConnell has begun whipping the bill because he ‘realizes that there’s life out there.’ ‘We are one vote away from doing this thing,’ the senator insisted,” reported Politico’s Burgess Everett and Jennifer Haberkorn.

— Another complication: the Congressional Budget Office won’t be able to issue a full report by the end of the month, which means lawmakers may vote on the measure without knowing how many people would lose coverage and how much insurance premiums would go up. Those estimates won’t be available “for at least several weeks,” the nonpartisan scoring agency said yesterday. (Elise Viebeck)

— Even if the bill can make it through the Senate, its passage in the House is far from guaranteed. Mike DeBonis reports: “Make no mistake, the pressure on GOP House members to make good on their eight-year promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act would be enormous, and several House Republican aides and members said Monday that they expect members would be squeezed in a political vise of epic proportions until the measure passes. … But none of those Republicans — cognizant of the many GOP health-care missteps to date — would guarantee Graham-Cassidy would pass the House. … [House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark] Meadows, for one, said much depends on how the Senate bill might change in the coming weeks. … But the bigger obstacle may be House moderates — particularly from the states of California and New York, which stand to lose tens of billions of dollars in federal health-care funding under the Graham-Cassidy framework.”

— McConnell’s calculus: The majority leader believes that Republicans will suffer badly in the midterms if they cannot demonstrate progress to the base on getting rid of the 2010 law. Even passing a flawed bill that later fails in a conference makes incumbents less vulnerable to attacks from their right. As Trump increasingly works with Democrats, GOP leaders want to show they can manage their conference. If McConnell succeeds, he will help rehabilitate his image among Republicans. If he fails, though, Trump might be more emboldened to partner with Chuck Schumer, a fellow New Yorker who temperamentally is more like him. 

— A great on-the-ground window into the dynamic: “For those in the Party of Trump, the Republicans — not the president — are to blame,” Jenna Johnson reports from Oxford, N.C.: “During one of their usual morning gatherings at the Bojangles’ restaurant in this rural town near the Virginia border, a group of retirees from a local Baptist church shook their heads at the failure of Washington to [get] anything accomplished. But the focus of their blame is not [Trump], it’s Republicans in Congress — whom they view as standing in the way. These churchgoers are at the heart of the dilemma nagging Republican leaders as they struggle to forge a path between the Grand Old Party and the Party of Trump. They … speak of Democratic and Republican congressional leaders with the same levels of frustration and disappointment — while describing Trump as if he were a longtime neighbor. And they don’t expect their devotion to the president to waver, even a tiny bit, any time soon.”


— In his first address to the U.N. today, Trump is expected to focus on creating global conditional advantageous to the United States without promoting democracy on the world stage. David Nakamura and Anne Gearan report: “Amid mounting global challenges, foreign leaders are carefully watching Trump’s moment on the world stage for signals about his willingness to maintain the United States’ traditional leadership role. … White House aides said the address would be consistent with Trump’s foreign policy speeches this year in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he challenged other ­nations to do more in the global fight against terrorism, and in Warsaw, where he warned that Western civilization was under attack. … Trump, as he has before, intends to emphasize the need for other nations to take up more of the burden of providing for their own prosperity and security, rather than relying on the United States.

In brief opening remarks, [Trump] said the United Nations had not lived up to its billing upon its creation in 1945, asserting that it suffered from a bloated bureaucracy and ‘mismanagement.’ Trump urged his fellow leaders to make reforms aimed at ‘changing business as usual,’ but pledged that his administration would be ‘partners in your work.’ ‘Make the United Nations great,’ the president told reporters when asked about his message this week, riffing off his campaign slogan. ‘Not again. Make the United Nations great. Such tremendous potential, and I think we’ll be able to do this.’”

— The New York Times’s Peter Baker and Somini Sengupta noted Trump’s softer tone at the international forum, where diplomacy reigns supreme. They write that “protocol-obsessed diplomats” didn’t know what to expect from the U.S. president, but “Instead of a tiger, they got a tabby. Mr. Trump, the apostle of America First who has heaped scorn on global institutions, ripped up international agreements and quarreled even with allies, offered a subdued and largely friendly performance.”

But Baker and Sengupta warnTrump might have been buttering up the crowd for a much-tougher speech on Day 2 this morning:  “In a speech drafted by his hard-line policy adviser, Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump plans to challenge the world to do more to counter threats from Iran and North Korea”

The day was arranged by U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley and Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who pressed for an end to the Iran nuclear deal, the Times reported.  “Asked by reporters if he would withdraw [from that deal], Mr. Trump said: ‘You’ll see very soon. You’ll be seeing very soon.’ He added: ‘We’re talking about it constantly. Constantly.’

— Trump met yesterday with French President Emmanuel Macron, praising for his country’s Bastille Day parade (which he saw firsthand). Trump mentioned he’d love a similar procession down Pennsylvania Avenue for the Fourth of July. “I was your guest at Bastille Day, and it was one of the greatest parades I’ve ever seen,” Trump said. “It was two hours on the button, and it was military might and, I think, a tremendous thing for France and the spirit of France. … To a large extent because of what I witnessed, we may do something like that on July Fourth in Washington down Pennsylvania Avenue.” The comment prompted laughter from Macron and other assembled officials, but Trump seemed serious, even adding that he has spoken with his chief of staff about the idea to “see if we can do it this year.” (Abby Phillip)


— “The Pentagon deployed a formation of 14 bombers and fighters over the Korean Peninsula on Sunday that also included South Korean and Japanese aircraft, the latest show of force in response to North Korea’s missile launches and nuclear tests,” Dan Lamothe reports: “The warplanes were dispatched after North Korea launched a ballistic missile over northern Japan on Thursday, triggering a widespread emergency alert for those who call the region home. Two Air Force B-1B bombers from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and four Marine Corps F-35B fighters from Iwakuni, Japan, combined with four South Korean F-15K fighters and four F-2 Japanese fighters, U.S. defense officials said.”

— Jim Mattis said his South Korean counterpart asked recently about reintroducing tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea. Dan explains: “Mattis … confirmed that he and Defense Minister Song Young-moo discussed the weapons during an Aug. 30 visit in Washington. The Pentagon chief did not say whether he’d support such an idea, however. Song has advocated for the move, calling it an ‘alternative worth a full review.’ … South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said several times that he is against the return of nuclear weapons, but he faces opposition on that point from many conservative leaders in his country[.]”

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