According to a new report obtained by CNN, Paul Manafort was wiretapped by the Obama administration before and after the presidential election but Trump has not yet been vindicated.
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort—a key actor in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election influence—was wiretapped by the Obama administration before and after the November 2016 presidential election and into early 2017, according to a new report obtained by CNN. This past March, Trump notoriously tweeted about former President Barack Obama having his “wires tapped” at Trump Tower specifically.
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
“I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!” Trump also tweeted, later adding: “This is Nixon/Watergate.”
At the time, an Obama spokesman vehemently denied any such order for surveillance.
“If true, it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Inspector General should immediately conduct an investigation into these leaks and to examine the motivations behind a previous Administration’s effort to surveil a political opponent. Mr. Manafort requests that the Department of Justice release any intercepts involving him and any non-Americans so interested parties can come to the same conclusion as the DOJ – there is nothing there,” Manafort’s spokesman, Jason Maloni, said, according to a Fox News report.
Per CNN “hair-splitting” on whether or not Trump is now vindicated, the news outlet emphasized Trump “repeatedly uses the term ‘my phones.’” However, CNN does provide perhaps more relevant insight on the process of “minimization,” described in the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 as:
Information acquired from an electronic surveillance conducted pursuant to this subchapter concerning any United States person may be used and disclosed by Federal officers and employees without the consent of the United States person only in accordance with the minimization procedures required by this subchapter. No otherwise privileged communication obtained in accordance with, or in violation of, the provisions of this subchapter shall lose its privileged character. No information acquired from an electronic surveillance pursuant to this subchapter may be used or disclosed by Federal officers or employees except for lawful purposes.
In other words, even if the phones were “tapped” and even if campaign insights were gleaned from the collected intelligence, this information would not—according to this section of FISA—be used in any other manner, but rather be considered “privileged” and not disclosed or otherwise nefarious to Trump’s campaign victory.
The DOJ itself in a recent court filing claimed the DOJ and FBI did not have evidence of any Trump Tower surveillance during the election. Regardless, it is still unclear whether or not the wiretapping occurred in Manafort’s Trump Tower residence, his home in Alexandria, VA, or elsewhere. It’s also not yet clear whether or not any inside campaign information was gleaned as a byproduct or intended product of the surveillance measures.
In addition to the DOJ protestations of Trump’s allegations of wiretapping, CNN reminds us that former FBI director James Comey testified this past spring, “We have no information to support those tweets,” and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper point blank said, “I can deny it” regarding the existence of any FISA warrant to tap Trump’s phone at Trump Tower.
Fox News further reminds us that Manafort stepped down in August 2016 as the Trump campaign chairman after rumors of a conflict of interest regarding his ties to Ukrainian politics—months before the election and well before 2017, when the wires were allegedly still tapped. An additional CNN report details Manafort was first the subject of a FISA secret order in 2014 centering on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine’s former ruling party, which was discontinued due to lack of evidence only to be picked up again under a new FBI warrant extending into early this year coinciding with the Russia investigation.
So, even with the new information on the Manafort wiretaps, it is still unclear whether or not the Trump campaign (and later the administration) was directly or indirectly affected—or if Trump and his tweets are vindicated at last.