- The Manhattan US attorney’s office is reportedly investigating President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, for possible money laundering. The US attorney’s office is working in conjunction with special counsel Robert Mueller as he investigates Russia’s election interference. Manafort has long been a subject of interest for Mueller, who also teamed up with New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman to probe Manafort’s finances in the state.
The US attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York is investigating President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, for possible money laundering, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
The office is reportedly working in conjunction with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is tasked with investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, including whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the election in his favor.
Mueller has long been zeroing in on Manafort, who is being scrutinized for possible financial and tax crimes, his contacts with Russian officials, and his work as a foreign agent for entities linked to the Kremlin, particularly Ukraine’s pro-Russia Party of Regions.
In addition to working with the US attorney’s office in Manhattan, Mueller is also collaborating with New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman to probe Manafort’s finances.
Schneiderman and Mueller’s teams have been sharing evidence and have also spoken frequently about a potential case, sources familiar with the process told Politico in August. One person added that Mueller and Schneiderman had obtained evidence of possible financial crimes, including money laundering.
Investigators have also been homing in on Manafort’s activities outside of his business dealings. Last month, it emerged that US investigators obtained a FISA warrant to wiretap Manafort before and after the election. It was later reported that Manafort offered “private briefings” about the campaign to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, just before the Republican National Convention last year.
It also emerged in August that the FBI conducted a predawn raid on Manafort’s home in July, and agents working with Mueller left Manafort’s home “with various records.” The New York Times reported in September that following the raid, investigators working with Mueller told Manafort he was going to be charged with a crime.
Manafort has not been formally accused of any criminal wrongdoing, and has previously denied the same. His spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
News that the Manhattan US attorney’s office is scrutinizing Manafort comes on the heels of a Politico report last week that found that Trump is interviewing candidates to fill that position. Trump is reportedly considering nominees with ties to his close associates, including his personal lawyer, according to Politico. The spot was most recently vacated by Preet Bharara, whom Trump fired in March. The president is also said to be interviewing candidates for the US attorney’s office in the Eastern District, which is based in Brooklyn.
Experts said Trump’s participation in interviewing candidates for those positions was highly unusual.
“I never heard of a president interviewing a US attorney candidate,” Richard Painter, a University of Minnesota law professor who served as Bush’s chief ethics lawyer, previously told Business Insider.
Bharara echoed that point, tweeting, “It is neither normal nor advisable for Trump to personally interview candidates for US Attorney positions, especially the one in Manhattan,” which is sometimes referred to as the “Sovereign District of New York” because of its independence.
Mueller’s focus on Manafort is likely part of an attempt to flip him as a witness against Trump.
“The tactic that Mueller is using – telling Manafort that he will be charged – is generally used when prosecutors are trying to get a defendant to ‘flip,'” former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti wrote in September. The best way to do that, he added, is to assemble enough evidence to make it likely that the individual, if charged, would be convicted and sentenced to jail time.
It’s hard to tell what Mueller has on Manafort, “but they absolutely have something because they got a search warrant,” Joseph Pelcher, a former FBI counterintelligence agent who was stationed in Russia and specialized in organized crime, told Business Insider in an earlier interview. “You need probable cause to get a search warrant, so there is something there, without question.”
Pelcher added that if he were investigating Manafort and found evidence of possible wrongdoing, “the first thing I would do is sit Manafort down and get him to cooperate, because he’s not the big fish here.”