WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A July FBI raid on the Virginia home of President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, confirmed on Wednesday (Aug 9), showed that a federal investigation of possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 US election was intensifying.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents executed a search warrant at one of Paul Manafort’s homes, his spokesman Jason Maloni said.
A source familiar with the work of Robert Mueller, the special counsel named by the Justice Department in May to investigate the Russia matter, said the raid was part of the first stage of his probe, focused on seeking evidence of financial crimes.
Mueller’s team is examining money-laundering accusations against Manafort, poring over his financial and real estate records in New York as well as his involvement in Ukrainian politics, two officials told Reuters last month.
The house in Alexandria, a suburb of Washington, was raided in the early morning hours of July 26 by agents who seized documents and other material, a day after Manafort had met with Senate Intelligence Committee staff, the Washington Post reported, citing unidentified people familiar with the probe.
Tax documents and financial records were sought by agents for Mueller in the raid, the New York Times reported, citing a person familiar with the matter.
“Mr Manafort has consistently cooperated with law enforcement and other serious inquiries and did so on this occasion as well,” Maloni said in an e-mail.
Trump has called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.”
Allegations of collusion between Trump associates and Moscow have hounded the Republican president since he took office in January, presenting a major distraction from his policy agenda.
The FBI did not immediately return a request for comment. Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for Mueller’s office, declined to confirm the raid.
A key question for investigators was whether Manafort had knowledge of any Trump campaign dealings with Russia, including meetings with Russians with government ties, said the source familiar with Mueller’s work.
The same question was relevant to investigators in regard to Trump’s fired former national security adviser, retired Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the source said.
“Financial matters have paper trails that can be easy to pick up and follow, so that’s a logical place to start,” the source added.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the presidential race, in part by hacking and releasing emails embarrassing to Trump’s opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, to help him get elected in November.
Congressional committees are looking at a June 2016 meeting in New York with a Russian lawyer organised by Trump’s eldest son. Donald Trump Jr released emails last month that showed he welcomed the prospect of receiving damaging information about Clinton. Manafort attended the meeting.
Experts pointed to the fact that the FBI had enough evidence to get approval for a search warrant concerning Manafort.
“Somewhere, there now exists under seal what is likely a very detailed affidavit laying out criminal allegations involving Paul Manafort, and specifically, there is probable cause to believe he has committed a crime or there is evidence of a crime at his home,” said Alex Little, a former federal prosecutor now with the law firm Bone McAllester Norton.
Manafort has been cooperating with congressional probes. He met with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators last month and has been negotiating an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Committee leaders said they wanted to discuss not just the campaign, but also Manafort’s work on behalf of interests in Ukraine. Russia’s aggression in Ukraine was one reason Congress defied Trump and passed new sanctions on Moscow last month.
Manafort had worked as a consultant to a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine and helped support the country’s Kremlin-backed former leader, Viktor Yanukovich. According to a financial audit reported by the New York Times, he also once owed US$17 million (S$23 million) to Russian shell companies.
A Senate Judiciary Committee aide said the panel received 20,000 pages of documents from Trump’s presidential campaign and 400 pages of documents from Manafort on Aug 2. On Aug 4, the committee received 240 pages of documents from Donald Trump Jr..