(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
- The FBI's predawn raid of the home of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, has opened up a new front in the Russia probe.
- Experts say the fact that the FBI raided Manafort's home instead of simply issuing a subpoena could signal a "lack of trust" in his willingness to cooperate.
- The raid could also have been part of a larger psychological strategy to "send a message" to Manafort and other subjects of the FBI's Russia investigation that the probe is serious and advancing.
The FBI conducted a predawn July raid on the home of President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as part of its ongoing investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
According to ABC, a dozen armed FBI agents woke Manafort up at the crack of dawn by knocking on his bedroom door.
But why didn't the bureau simply issue subpoenas to Manafort — who has been cooperating with the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the election — for the documents it was seeking?
Former Department of Justice officials, FBI agents, and federal prosecutors say there are a couple reasons, including the need to move quickly and avoid any Fifth Amendment objections. But they said the most likely reason the FBI sought, and was granted, the "no-knock warrant" is that federal officials didn't think Manafort could be trusted.
"Mueller and his staff may have decided that, despite the claims of cooperation from Manafort’s lawyer, Manafort could not be trusted to provide all of the documents requested by subpoena," wrote Harvard Law School professor Alex Whitting, who served for a decade as a federal prosecutor at the Department of Justice and the US Attorney's office in Boston.
"If Mueller’s team thought that there was any risk that Manafort would hide or destroy documents, that would be a strong reason to proceed with a search warrant," he added.
Kenneth Julian, a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips who served for more than 11 years as a federal prosecutor in California, echoed Whitting's sentiments.
"The only reason to do a search warrant on a target who is ostensibly cooperating with the investigation is a lack of trust," he said. "And in order to get a search warrant, FBI agents had to swear to their belief that fruits of a crime would be found in Manafort's home."
The New York Times reported that investigators were looking for tax documents and foreign banking records, documents "typically sought when investigating violations of Bank Secrecy Act," Times reporter Adam Goldman noted.
The Bank Secrecy Act was passed "to deter and detect money laundering, terrorist financing and other criminal acts and the misuse of our nation's financial institutions," according to the Treasury Department.
Manafort has insisted that he has never received any illicit cash payments from the pro-Russia political party he advised for nearly a decade in Ukraine. The New York Times reported last August that the party had designated him $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments.
But Manafort has a "pattern" of using shell companies to purchase homes "in all-cash deals," as WNYC has reported, and then transferring those properties into his own name for no money and taking out large mortgages against them.
"Manafort’s representatives have been insisting for months that he is cooperating with these investigations, and if you are really cooperating, DOJ typically doesn’t need to raid your house — they’ll trust you to respond fully to a subpoena," said Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman under President Barack Obama.
"The fact they cut any cooperation short and raided his house suggests they don’t believe he is fully cooperating and that there are documents or electronic files, possibly contained on computers at his house, in his possession that they did not trust him to turn over," Miller added.
Former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa wrote on Twitter that, in obtaining a warrant, the FBI likely convinced a judge that there was probable cause a crime had been committed — and "that there was some risk that Manafort may try to remove or conceal evidence despite cooperation."
Rangappa said that when she was at the FBI, predawn raids were often conducted at 5 a.m. "to catch targets unaware, so they cannot destroy or remove evidence." She added that anything the government finds "can be used to leverage Manafort," especially if it shows that he misled or lied to the government or Congress.
Still, there are other reasons why the FBI would have felt compelled to seek a warrant for this kind of raid instead of just issuing a subpoena.
Mueller, the special counsel, may have needed the documents quickly "for purposes of witness interviews," Whitting wrote. "And so may have decided that using a search warrant would be more expeditious."
Conducting a raid also leaves targets unable to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. While recipients of grand jury subpoenas normally can't invoke those rights, Manafort's lawyers may have argued an exception on the grounds that such a subpoena might require testimony "which could be self-incriminating," Whitting wrote.
The raid could have been part of a larger psychological strategy, too.
Mueller "may have wanted to get Manafort’s attention to emphasize the seriousness and advancing nature of the investigation, all with the hope of securing his cooperation," Whitting said.
Jack Sharman, a white-collar lawyer in Birmingham, Alabama, and former special counsel to the House Banking Committee for the Whitewater investigation of President Bill Clinton, said the warrant was "designed to send a message."
"Manafort has reportedly been cooperating with congressional investigators about documents," he said. "But one purpose of such a raid is to bring home to the target the fact that the federal prosecution team is moving forward and is not going to defer to or rely on Congress."
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