From ABIGAIL TRACY at VANITY FAIR:
While Donald Trump and his surrogates were loudly campaigning against Robert Mueller on Twitter and on TV, the special counsel and his team of F.B.I. investigators has been quietly building their case, the details of which burst into public view Wednesday when The Washington Post reported that the bureau searched the home of Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in a dramatic pre-dawn raid at the end of last month.
The raid, which occurred one day after Manafort met with the Senate Intelligence Committee, indicates that the Justice Department investigation has entered a heightened stage—and that Mueller is willing to use any investigative tools at his disposal to determine the extent of the Russian government’s interference in the presidential election
Manafort has provided more than 400 pages worth of documents to the various Congressional committees investigating the allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin to derail Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, but Mueller’s aggressive tactics suggest he thinks Manafort may not be fully cooperating with law enforcement, his assurances to the contrary. “It is a big deal,” Peter Zeidenberg, a former Justice Department prosecutor, told Politico. “Prosecutors do not take aggressive steps like this with subjects who the government feels are being open and cooperative. And they also do not do this to ‘send a message.’ They do it because they think there is evidence to be found and that if they do not act aggressively, it could be destroyed.” Senator Richard Blumenthal echoed the sentiment in a statement. “This kind of raid—in the early morning hours with no advance notice—shows an astonishing and alarming distrust for the president’s former campaign chairman. It seems to decimate his claim that he is cooperating with law enforcement,” the Connecticut lawmaker said.
Manafort, a longtime political operative and lobbyist, has reportedly been under F.B.I. scrutiny since 2014—well before Trump declared his candidacy—for work that he conducted as a political consultant for the pro-Kremlin Party of Regions in Ukraine.
The former Trump staffer has repeatedly denied that he is working with the feds. But the search warrant for Manafort—which reportedly sought tax, banking and other documents—isn’t the only way the F.B.I. is building its case. On Wednesday, Politico reported that federal investigators also sought cooperation from Manafort’s son-in-law Jeffrey Yohai, with whom he has partnered on business deals. Yohai is under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles over a series of real estate deals and is reportedly facing allegations of operating a Ponzi Scheme.
In an e-mail to a Wall Street Journal reporter that was obtained by Fox News, Trump’s lawyer John Dowd derided the raid and questioned the validity of the warrant used by Mueller’s team. “It appears the Search Warrant here was obtained by a gross abuse of the judicial process by the Special Counsel’s office,” Dowd wrote. “This extraordinary invasive tool was employed for its shock value to try to intimidate Mr. Manafort and bring him to his [knees]. These methods are normally found and employed in Russia not America.”