But Trump may not be :
prosecutors do not obtain warrants to toss the homes of people they regard as cooperating witnesses. When they are dealing with cooperators, prosecutors politely request that documents be produced, expecting the witness (and his lawyers) to comply. If some coercion is thought necessary, they will issue a grand-jury subpoena — an enforceable directive to produce documents, but one that still allows the witness to hand over the materials, not have them forcibly seized. The execution of a search warrant, even if it goes smoothly, is a show of force. It is intimidating
.. I also emphasized its timing: predawn. Under federal law, search warrants are supposed to be executed during daytime hours, when agents can be expected to knock on the door, announce their presence and purpose, and be admitted by the occupant of the premises. If investigators want to search a home before 6 a.m., they need permission. To get it, they have to convince the judge that, if the occupant were alerted to the agents’ presence before they entered, it is likely he would destroy evidence or pose a danger.
.. the FBI entered covertly by picking the lock on Manafort’s front door while he was sleeping. Clearly, that is not standard operating procedure — certainly not in a white-collar case.
.. Mueller’s investigators wanted to start grabbing files and copying hard drives before Manafort had a chance to call his lawyers or impede the search in any way. It was their way of saying Manafort could not be trusted. That’s intimidating, too.
.. Being a foreign agent is not a crime, per se; whether the relationship is criminal depends on the nature of the actions the operative takes (including whether he has disclosed his agency, as required by federal law)
.. So in a FISA investigation, it is not necessary to show probable cause that a suspect has committed a crime in order to search his home or tap his phone; all that is needed is probable cause that he is acting as an agent of a foreign power.
.. the FISA surveillance took place in two phases:
- the first, from 2014 until sometime in early 2016;
- the second in late 2016 into early 2017
.. Initially, I suspect Manafort was investigated as an agent of the Kremlin-backed Yanukovich faction in Ukraine
.. subsequently, Manafort was investigated as a suspected agent of Russia in connection with the Putin regime’s meddling in the 2016 election. I am betting the probable-cause evidence was overwhelming in Phase I, and sketchy in Phase II.
.. the federal government is not permitted to use FISA as a ruse to conduct what is actually a criminal investigation
.. the criminal search warrant executed at Manafort’s home on July 26 would give us insight into what suspected crimes Mueller is investigating. There would have to have been a probable-cause showing of specific crimes before a judge authorized the warrant; and the warrant itself had to have described the evidence the agents expected to find.
.. Manafort has a good idea of what Mueller is after, because the agents were required by law to provide Manafort with a copy of the warrant and an inventory of what they seized. These have not been publicly revealed.
.. Not only did Manafort meet with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators the day before the search; he was also scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the very day of the search. Indeed, by pouncing at the precise time Manafort was cooperating with Congress, Mueller’s investigators were able to seize binders of documents that Manafort and his counsel had prepared to assist his Senate testimony.
.. Obviously, though, Manafort would not have the same willingness to testify before Congress if he suddenly had reason to believe he was likely to be indicted (such that any testimony he gave could be used against him in a criminal case). The New York Times reports that Mueller’s prosecutors have told Manafort they intend to indict him. That, too, is intimidating.
.. CNN claims that the first FISA surveillance of Manafort was shut down in 2016, after over a year, due to “lack of evidence.” That is strange. Again, the point of FISA surveillance is not to build a criminal case but to gather intelligence about the foreign power for which the subject is allegedly acting as an agent. To say FISA surveillance was aborted for “lack of evidence” makes it sound like Manafort was not an agent for the Ukrainian faction after all.
.. Was any part of Steele’s claims used by the FBI in applications to the FISA court for surveillance and searches of Manafort or other Trump associates?
.. Was there correlation between (a) the intelligence generated by the FISA surveillance of Manafort and (b) the unmasking of people associated with the Trump campaign?
.. We should stress, of course, that if there was solid evidence of an espionage relationship between Manafort and the Kremlin, there would be nothing necessarily inappropriate in conducting surveillance and unmasking relevant American identities. The question is: Was there solid evidence?
Word is Mr. Simpson has made clear he will appear for a voluntary committee interview only if he is not specifically asked who hired him to dig dirt on Mr. Trump.
.. If Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Democrats and the media really want answers about Russian meddling, this is a far deeper well than the so-far scant case against Mr. Trump. If they refuse to dive into the story, we’ll know that the truth about Russia and the election was never what they were after.
Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya fits the profile of someone who might serve as a “cut-out” or “access agent” sent to assess and test a high-priority target’s interest in cooperation
.. But everything we know about the meeting — from whom it involved to how it was set up to how it unfolded — is in line with what intelligence analysts would expect an overture in a Russian influence operation to look like. It bears all the hallmarks of a professionally planned, carefully orchestrated intelligence soft pitch designed to gauge receptivity, while leaving room for plausible deniability in case the approach is rejected. And the Trump campaign’s willingness to take the meeting — and, more important, its failure to report the episode to U.S. authorities — may have been exactly the green light Russia was looking for to launch a more aggressive phase of intervention in the U.S. election.
.. My read, as someone who has been part of the U.S. intelligence community for more than four decades, is that Veselnitskaya is probably too well-connected to have independently initiated such a high-level and sensitive encounter. If she had, her use of known Trump and Kremlin associates (Aras and Emin Agalarov) to help make introductions and the suggestion, in Goldstone’s account, that she wanted to share “official documents and information” as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump could have gotten her into significant trouble.
.. A better explanation is that Veselnitskaya is far enough removed from Moscow’s halls of power to make her a good fit as an intermediary in an intelligence operation — as a “cut-out” with limited knowledge of the larger scheme and as an “access agent” sent to assess and test a high-priority target’s interest in cooperation.
.. Trump Jr.’s assertion that Veselnitskaya didn’t deliver the promised dirt in that meeting is also consistent with how Russian intelligence operates.
.. Russia would have wanted to feel out the campaign before sharing its most prized material. Intelligence officers prefer to dip their toes in the water before taking a plunge. And it’s too risky to attempt a blunt approach to an extremely sensitive target (such as the son of the Republican front-runner for president), especially on hostile (in this case, American) soil.
.. Formalizing a relationship with the Trump campaign would be left for another day. If and when that day came, the pitch would be carried out by an experienced intelligence officer in favorable circumstances, with the right Trump associate and on friendly turf.
.. standard Russian intelligence practice would require making clear what was on offer. The point is to test the target. Are they open to entering into a compromising relationship? Will they rebuff the mere suggestion of such impropriety? Will they alert authorities and thus stand in the way of Russian efforts?
.. the deal should have been obvious to everyone. Moscow intended to discredit Clinton and help get Trump elected, and in exchange it hoped the Republican would consider its interests — in sanctions relief and otherwise. The Russian government appears to have signaled its direct involvement and real intention in advance of the meeting, presumably to avoid the possibility that its offer might be misconstrued, perhaps naively, as an innocent gesture of support and nothing more.
.. From the Russian perspective, the fact that Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting would have been the first promising sign. That veteran political operative Paul Manafort and senior adviser Jared Kushner showed up with him would have furthered the impression that there was strong interest in Russian assistance (and vulnerability to compromise) on the part of the campaign. But, according to standard espionage tradecraft, the most notable achievement of this encounter lay in the campaign’s failure to report it to the appropriate U.S. authorities
.. the Steele dossier suggests that the Kremlin was trying to cultivate the Trumps as far back as 2011.
.. And it would have allowed Russian intelligence to be comfortable initiating the next phase of its operation — systematically leaking information on Clinton and trying to penetrate the U.S. voting process — with the knowledge that the Trump campaign was interested in such Russian government assistance.
.. Although the Kremlin could have meddled without active or tacit approval from the campaign, having the campaign on board would have made the meddling more effective. For example, Russia could be sure that its actions would fit with Trump campaign strategy. Even Trump Jr.’s initial thought to drop the Clinton information later in the summer would be valuable for the Kremlin to know in terms of best timing.
.. Russia also would have wanted an implicit if not explicit agreement that intelligence assistance would be rewarded by a grateful Trump administration willing to relieve sanctions and embark on a more constructive relationship.
.. And after Russia’s overtures to the Trump campaign and the Trump campaign’s public denials that it had ever interacted with Russians, Vladimir Putin may have had the kompromat he needed to indirectly influence the Republican Party (such as the GOP platform on Ukraine) and Trump if he made it to the White House. The worst outcome would be that Trump would lose the election and, as a billionaire with global interests, still be a very useful ally for Putin.
.. Had this Russian overture been rejected or promptly reported by the Trump campaign to U.S. authorities, Russian intelligence would have been forced to recalculate the risk vs. gain of continuing its aggressive operation to influence U.S. domestic politics. Russian meddling might have been compromised in its early stages and stopped in its tracks by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies before it reached fruition by the late fall.
So the suggestion that this was a nothing meeting without consequence is, in all likelihood, badly mistaken.