Reports: Manafort Offered Campaign Briefings to Oligarch; Mueller Wants Docs on Oval Office Meeting
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort offered briefings to an oligarch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Washington Post reported Wednesday, while the New York Times said special counsel Robert Mueller wants documents connected to President Trump's activities including his May meeting in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and now-former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
CNN first reported Tuesday that Mueller is digging back 11 years into the dealings of Manafort, who worked as a consultant for the Kremlin-allied former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych and has been the subject of an FBI probe for the past three years. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act monitoring of Manafort reportedly began shortly after the investigation launched in 2014.
The FBI conducted a predawn raid on Manafort's Alexandria, Va., home this summer, armed with a wide-ranging search warrant and seizing tax and banking records.
According to the Post, Manafort sent an email to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire for whom Manafort "secretly" worked several years ago, less than two weeks before Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination noting that "if he needs private briefings we can accommodate." Mueller is already in possession of the July 7, 2016, email. Other exchanges focused around Manafort trying to collect past consulting fees.
"They would regard perhaps as a witting accomplice -- again, as part of their overall campaign to interfere with the election," former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN on Wednesday evening when asked what the Kremlin might think of such an offer. "So if they had a witting and willing participant who would engage with them, talk with them, who in their mind had some inside access or influence as a favorable line of exploitation."
The NYT said Mueller has asked the White House for documents pertaining to 13 areas including the firings of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and FBI Director James Comey, as well as the Oval Office meeting in which Trump allegedly told the Russian officials that Comey "was crazy, a real nut job... I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."
"I personally was taken somewhat aback by that," Clapper said of the meeting to which only Russian media had access. "...Just the notion of this solicitousness with the Russians has been, for me at least, bothersome particularly in light of the demonstrated interference in our election."
"It's appearing more and more to me that the intelligence community assessment that we published on the 6th of January may have only been perhaps the tip of the iceberg," the former DNI added.
Trump's lawyer Ty Cobb was overheard at a D.C. restaurant last week discussing the Russia investigation with a fellow attorney. "The White House counsel's office is being very conservative with this stuff," Cobb said. "Our view is we're not hiding anything." He also referred to unidentified documents "locked in a safe." White House chief of staff John Kelly reportedly reprimanded Cobb for his loose lips over lunch.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) told CNN on Wednesday morning that reports "would seem to indicate" Mueller's investigation is "way away from what happened in the 2016 presidential election," but "when you find criminal activity, then I think there's quite a bit of latitude to go and look at that criminal activity."
"Everything I know right now indicates that he is acting within his scope and that he is taking that very seriously, but beyond that, I cannot comment," said Goodlatte, who has met behind closed doors with Mueller and committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.).
Asked Tuesday on CNN for his thoughts on the FISA surveillance of Manafort, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) replied, "I think it shows an appropriate level of seriousness for the investigation and that's why Congress is taking a very strong bipartisan approach to this investigation."
"There seems to be a lot of finger-pointing but no smoking gun and so I think it's important that we continue this bipartisan search for the answers and make sure that we get to the bottom of it as we also support the Mueller investigation going forward," Gardner added.
House Intelligence Committee member Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said that as the Russians were "determined and sophisticated in the way that they attack us... it only makes sense that if we want to find out whether any U.S. persons worked with them that were just as determined and sophisticated."
"There are a number of contacts, a number of people on Donald Trump's team who were working with the Russians prior to the election, during the election and after," he said. "And we have to now find out if that converged into a working relationship while Russia was interfering our campaign."