It’s frankly weird that this is being reported now. After all this time, why would it have just come out?
The suspicion has to be that the purpose of leaking this information is to prepare the infospace for an indictment of Manafort, which the rumor mill has just cranked up about.
The “Manafort indictment” news isn’t new, however. For one thing, the likelihood of an indictment was reportedly made clear to Manafort back in July (see the last link), when federal agents raided his home in Virginia.
But for another, the Daily Caller had the story about a probable Manafort indictment two weeks ago. The New York Times story that’s reverberating in the MSM echo chamber today isn’t a revelation. It just seems to be a carefully timed disclosure to one of the Washington establishment’s most cooperative media outlets.
Naturally, Trump supporters are tweeting furiously that Trump is vindicated. His campaign was “wiretapped,” just as Trump tweeted it was.
Watch the now-infamous video of James Clapper falsely claiming that Obama didn't wiretap the Trump campaign. pic.twitter.com/GtO4djePNd
— Wired Sources (@WiredSources) September 19, 2017
That’s the word CNN uses in its report — wiretap — and without scare quotes, which presumably means the unnamed sources cited in the report said it was actual wiretapping.
The report is vague about who was doing what, but based on the pretext cited for the wiretapping, I surmise that it was a counterintelligence operation rather than a criminal matter. The warrant for the wiretapping was obtained from the FISA court, not a federal district judge. That means the purpose was not criminal, and was purportedly related to national security. The overarching basis for seeking surveillance was suspicion about Manafort’s known prior connections to the former Yanukovych government in Ukraine (which had gained power under questionable circumstances and functioned largely as a puppet of Moscow), in light of his – Manafort’s – role in the Trump campaign.
It’s conceivable that this CNN report actually refers to the data mining of Manafort’s recorded digital communications in the NSA database (i.e., rather than to literal wiretapping). The two forms of “surveillance” get mixed up in MSM reporting all the time. But we can probably assume that the word “wiretap” was used intentionally by CNN’s sources, and that Manafort was, in fact, being literally wiretapped.
By whom is another question. The FBI would have the capability and charter to do it, assuming the basis for surveillance was counterintelligence. But the CNN report isn’t explicit.
CNN says the timeframe for this was both before and after the November election, apparently starting sometime after mid-June 2016 (the date of the Trump Jr. meeting with the Russian lawyer, when the sources say Manafort was not being wiretapped), and running to “early 2017.”
And CNN is careful to make the point that Manafort was in phone communications with Trump during this period – so it’s quite possible Trump was listened in on by the wiretapping operation. Apparently, the CNN sources didn’t disclose exact information on that.
That, again, is what the tweeps are on about in the Twittersphere. Other tweeps are excited that Manafort was wiretapped over his known connections in Ukraine, and the collateral implication that there was enough suspicion about his role in the Trump campaign to get a FISA warrant.
A couple of points, however. One: still other tweeps are busy pointing out that the Department of Justice has repeatedly maintained in court filings that it has no records of wiretapping activities that would verify Trump’s claim about being wiretapped.
DOJ has repeatedly maintained in court filings – as recently as Friday – that it has no records that would verify Trump's wiretapping claim. pic.twitter.com/V3KcA4OYIK
— Brad Heath (@bradheath) September 19, 2017
Maybe that’s just semantics. If Manafort was the subject being wiretapped, DOJ might argue that wiretapping him wasn’t technically responsive to Trump’s claim.
On the other hand, it’s not unrealistic to wonder if DOJ doesn’t have records because (a) it wasn’t actual wiretapping; it was targeted retrievals from the NSA database; or (b) it wasn’t a DOJ entity doing the wiretapping. Which latter would be a whole other level of “Hmmmm.” But we don’t have enough information to develop that line of thought further.
The other point: the tweeps emphasizing the “suspicion of Manafort” angle are trying to flag everyone down and get us to refocus here. The story, they say, isn’t that Trump was right about being wiretapped. The story is that Manafort was wiretapped, for reasons at least glancingly, possibly related to “Russia Russia Russia.”
But that’s not actually the story.
The story (my second point here) is that Manafort was wiretapped for months, and they didn’t find anything.
If they had found something, we’d already know it. That’s the thing about wiretapping: you make your findings in real time, as the trons are sucked in. Clearly, they didn’t find anything.
Keep that in mind going forward. If Manafort is indicted, it will be, as the Daily Caller said two weeks ago, for something like money laundering or tax evasion. If there were anything indictable related to “Russia Russia Russia” – anything that came out of the wiretaps – we would have heard about that already, because they’d have had it for months. Significantly, they would have had it from when Obama was still in the Oval Office. Which means it would have been either used in an official action of some kind, or leaked.
Apparently, they did their best and came up empty.