According to new reports, Paul Manafort, who was Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, was wiretapped by the FBI due to concerns about his links with Russia, according to US media.
The reported surveillance, granted under a court warrant, occurred both before and after the 2016 election.
Investigators wanted to know if Paul Manafort had sought Russian help with the campaign.
It is not known if the wiretap, which began in 2014, included conversations with President Trump. Paul Manafort is said to be facing an indictment.
The former political consultant, who had worked for Ukraine’s former ruling party, was chairman of the Trump campaign from June to August 2016. He has not commented on the CNN report, which has been confirmed by CBS News.
FBI special counsel Robert Mueller is leading an investigation into alleged attempts by Russia to influence the 2016 election.
However, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants were granted before his investigation started, and were first authorized as part of an investigation into Washington consulting firms working for Ukraine, CNN reported.
After the 2014 warrant ended, it was renewed again until earlier this year, in order to allow the FBI to investigate ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives.
Communications collected with the Manafort wiretaps sparked concerns among investigators that he had encouraged the Russians to help with the election campaign, CNN cited three sources as saying – although two of the sources said the evidence had not been conclusive.
The FBI, as well as several congressional committees, are investigating whether Russia attempted to interfere in the US election in order to help Donald Trump.
FBI agents raided Paul Manafort’s suburban Washington DC home on July 26, according to the New York Times.
Agents had picked the lock to his Virginia home as Paul Manafort lay in bed, and were looking for evidence that he had set up off-shore bank accounts, the newspaper reported.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, who lost the election to Donald Trump, said that she “wouldn’t rule out” questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election if evidence emerged of Russian interference.
The House has voted to impose fresh sanctions on Russia, despite President Donald Trump objecting to the legislation.
Senior Russian officials will be targeted in retaliation for alleged Moscow interference in the US 2016 election.
The bill is likely to complicate President Trump’s hopes of improving relations with Russia.
Russia said the vote could destroy the possibility of “normalizing relations” between the two countries.
The bill needs to be passed through the Senate before it can be sent on to President Trump to be signed.
The White House says it is reviewing the bill, and it is unclear whether President Trump will veto it.
“While the president supports tough sanctions on North Korea, Iran and Russia, the White House is reviewing the House legislation and awaits a final legislative package for the president’s desk,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
Russia’s relationship with President Trump has dogged his first six months in office, amid allegations Moscow interfered to help him get elected.
Donald Trump has also piled pressure on his attorney general over the Russia inquiry. He has publicly labeled Jeff Sessions “weak” and said he was “disappointed” in Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation.
Image NBC News
The legislation, which passed by 419 to three, was described by House Speaker Paul Ryan as a sanctions package that “tightens the screws on our most dangerous adversaries in order to keep Americans safe”.
The sanctions on Russia were drawn up in part to further punish its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. If passed, they would:
Penalize companies, including those in Europe, that contribute to Russian energy development, affecting companies involved the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany;
Shorten the duration of loans to Russian banks and Russian oil and gas companies;
Freeze assets of state-owned mining and railway companies;
Codify existing sanctions to make them more difficult to lift in the future;
Stop President Donald Trump being able to singlehandedly ease the sanctions.
The US already has a range of sanctions in place against Russian individuals and companies over Crimea.
The bill will also see fresh sanctions against North Korea and Iran over ballistic missile tests.
However, the new measures against Russia have been criticized in Europe. On July 26, a spokesman for the Germany foreign ministry expressed concern, saying US politicians were conducting industrial policy under the guise of sanctions, according to Reuters.
This version of the legislation still needs to be approved by the Senate, but it is not yet clear when it will consider the bill.
However, if it passes through the Senate mostly intact, the bill would provide a headache for President Trump, who has signaled a more conciliatory approach towards Moscow.
If the two chambers pass similar but slightly different bills, a committee will draw up a compromise version for approval.
Once both House and Senate have approved a bill, it goes to the president to be signed into law.
President Trump could veto the bill, but in doing so would fuel suspicion that he is too supportive of the Kremlin, correspondents say.
The bill has widespread support from both major parties in both Houses – making a veto a potentially unpopular political move.
Additionally, a presidential veto can be ignored if two thirds of both the House and Senate vote to override the president.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Trump is “going to study that legislation and see what the final product looks like.”
The Kremlin continues to insist it did not interfere in the US elections. One Russian newspaper has described the latest sanctions as “punishment, without a crime”.
Amid reports President Donald Trump is considering presidential pardons for family members, aides and even himself, he has insisted he has the “complete power” to pardon people.
Democratic Party spokesman Mark Warner has called the reports “extremely disturbing”.
The US authorities are probing possible collusion between the Trump team and Russia. Intelligence agencies think Russia tried to help Donald Trump to power.
Moscow denies this, and President Trump says there was no collusion.
The Washington Post reported on July 20 that Donald Trump and his team were looking at ways to pardon people close to him.
Presidents can pardon people before guilt is established or even before the person is charged with a crime.
Describing the reports as disturbing, Senator Mark Warner, who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said “pardoning any individuals who may have been involved would be crossing a fundamental line”.
Image source Wikipedia
On July 22, President Trump tweeted: “While all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us. FAKE NEWS.”
Donald Trump also attacked “illegal leaks” following reports his attorney general discussed campaign-related matters with a Russian envoy.
The Washington Post gave an account of meetings Attorney General Jeff Sessions held with the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. The newspaper quoted current and former US officials who cited intelligence intercepts of Sergey Kislyak’s version of the encounter to his superiors.
One of those quoted said Ambassador Kislyak spoke to Jeff Sessions about key campaign issues, including Donald Trump’s positions on policies significant to Russia.
During his confirmation hearing earlier this year, Jeff Sessions said he had no contact with Russians during the election campaign. When it later emerged he had, he said the campaign was not discussed at the meetings.
An official confirmed to Reuters the detail of the intercepts, but there has been no independent corroboration.
The officials spoken to by the Post said that Sergey Kislyak could have exaggerated the account, and cited a Justice Department spokesperson who repeated that Jeff Sessions did not discuss interference in the election.
President Trump left his seat and headed to Vladimir Putin, who had been sitting next to Melania Trump, media said. The president was alone with Vladimir Putin, apart from the attendance of the Russian president’s official interpreter.
Donald Trump had been seated next to Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s wife, so the US interpreter at the dinner spoke Japanese, not Russian. No media were in attendance.
The length of the talks has been disputed.
Ian Bremmer, president of the US-based Eurasia Group, who first reported them in a newsletter to clients, said: “Donald Trump got up from the table and sat down with Putin for about an hour. It was very animated and very friendly.”
No-one else was nearby, so the topics of discussion were not known, he said.
Image NBC News
Ian Bremmer had not been at the dinner but said details were given to him by unnamed attendees who, he said, were “flummoxed, confused and startled” by the turn of events.
He told Bloomberg he had never before seen “two major countries with a constellation of national interests that are as dissident while the two leaders seem to be doing everything possible to make nice-nice and be close to each other”.
In a statement, a senior White House official said there was no “second meeting”, just a brief conversation after dinner.
The official said: “The insinuation that the White House has tried to <hide> a second meeting is false, malicious and absurd. It is not merely perfectly normal, it is part of a president’s duties, to interact with world leaders.”
National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said it was not a meeting but a “pull aside”, adding: “A conversation over dessert should not be characterized as a meeting.”
President Trump later said on Twitter: “Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is <sick>. All G20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!”
The dinner and its attendees have always been known. Only the Trump-Putin discussion had not been reported before.
At the earlier, formal meeting, their first face-to-face encounter, President Trump said he had repeatedly pressed President Putin about the allegations of interference in the US vote.
“I said, <Did you do it?> He said, <No, I did not, absolutely not>. I then asked him a second time, in a totally different way. He said, <Absolutely not>.”
There are congressional investigations, and one by a special counsel, into the allegations of Russian interference in the US election and possible collusion with the Trump team.
On July 18, the Senate intelligence committee said it wanted to interview Donald Trump’s son, Donald Jr., and other members of the Trump team, over a meeting they had with a Russian lawyer in June 2016.
Donald Trump Jr. said he had attended the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya as he was promised damaging material on Hillary Clinton, but it did not materialize.
On July 19, Natalia Veselnitskaya told Russia’s RT TV channel she would be willing to testify before the Senate on the matter.
Meanwhile, the White House said President Trump would nominate former Utah governor Jon Huntsman as ambassador to Russia, a key post for a president who promised to improve relations with Moscow.
Jon Huntsman, who served as ambassador to China and Singapore, needs to have his name confirmed by the Senate.
The suspicions over Russian interference are likely to play a significant factor in his confirmation process, correspondents say.
Donald Trump Jr. has released an email chain showing he was offered “sensitive” information on Hillary Clinton by a Russian national.
Here’s a statement by Donald Trump Jr. published on July 11, 2017:
“To everyone, in order to be totally transparent, I am releasing the entire email chain of my emails with Rob Goldstone about the meeting on June 9, 2016. The first email on June 3, 2016 was from Rob, who was relating a request from Emin, a person I knew from 2013 Ms. Universe Pageant near Moscow. Emin and his father have a very highly respected company in Moscow. The information they suggested they had about Hillary Clinton I thought was Political Opposition Research. I first wanted to just have phone call but when that didn’t work out, they said the woman would be in new York and asked if I would meet. I decided to take the meeting. The woman, as she has said publicly, was not a government official. And, as we have said, she had no information to provide and wanted to talk about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act. To put this in context, this occurred before the current Russian fever was in vogue. As Rob Goldstone said just today in the press, the entire meeting was <<the most inane nonsense I ever heard. And I was actually agitated by it>>.”
Rob Goldstone is a publicist, Emin Agalarov is an Azerbaijani businessman and singer-songwriter. Aras Agalarov is Emin’s father and an Azerbaijani-Russian businessman and public figure.
Below is the full text of the exchange in chronological order and also a statement released by President Trump’s son:
On June 3, 2016, at 10:36, Rob Goldstone wrote:
Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.
The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and be very useful to your father.
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.
What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?
I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.
On June 3, 2016, at 10:53, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:
Thanks Rob I appreciate that,. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summers. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?
On June 6, 2016, at 12:40, Rob Goldstone wrote:
Let me know when you are free to talk with Emin by phone about this Hillary info – you had mentioned early this week so wanted to try to schedule a time and day Best to you and family Rob Goldstone
On June 6, 2016, at 15:03, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:
Rob could we speak now?
On June 6, 2016, at 15:37, Rob Goldstone wrote:
Let me track him down in Moscow
What number he could call?
On June 6, 2016, at 15:38, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:
My cell thanks
On June 6, 2016, at 15:43, Rob Goldstone wrote:
OK he’s on stage in Moscow but should be off within 20 minutes so I am sure can call Rob
On June 6, 2016, at 16:38, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:
Rob thanks for the help.
On June 7, 2016, at 16:20, Rob Goldstone wrote:
Hope all is well
Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday.
I believe you are aware of the meeting – and so wondered if 3pm or later on Thursday works for you?
I assume it would be at your office.
On June 7, 2016, at 17:16, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:
How about 3 at our offices? Thanks rob appreciate you helping set it up.
On June 7, 2016, at 17:19, Rob Goldstone wrote:
Perfect… I won’t sit in on the meeting, but will bring them at 3pm and introduce you etc.
I will send the names of the two people with you for security when I have them later today.
On June 7, 2016, at 18:14, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:
Great. It will likely be Paul Manafort (campaign boss) my brother in law [Jared Kushner] and me. 725 Fifth Ave 25th floor.
On June 8, 2016, at 10:34, Rob Goldstone wrote:
Would it be possible to move tomorrow meeting at 4pm as the Russian attorney is in court until 3 i was just informed.
On June 8, 2016, at 11:15, Donald Trump Jr. wrote:
Yes Rob I could do that unless they wanted to do 3 today instead… just let me know and ill lock it in either way.
On June 8, 2016, at 11:18, Rob Goldstone wrote:
They can’t do today as she hasn’t landed yet from Moscow 4pm is great tomorrow.
On June 8, 2016 at 12:03, Donald Trump Jr. wrote to Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort:
President Donald Trump issued a brief statement in support of his son, describing him as “a high-quality person” and applauding his transparency.
Image source Wikimedia
The emails to Donald Trump Jr., which he released on Twitter, say “the crown prosecutor of Russia” (a role that does not exist) had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father”.
The email chain was also forwarded to Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, and campaign manager Paul Manafort.
All three later met Natalia Veselnitskaya at New York’s Trump Tower.
Since he was elected, Donald Trump has been dogged by allegations that Russia tried to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The president has denied any knowledge of this and Russia has also repeatedly denied interfering.
In May, the DoJ appointed ex-FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to look into the Russian matter.
The New York Times first reported on July 8 that a meeting had taken place on June 9, 2016, between Natalia Veselnitskaya and the Trump team.
It later reported that Donald Trump Jr. had earlier been offered alleged damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
The Times had been expected to publish emails connected to the meeting, but Donald Trump Jr. pre-empted this by posting the email chain on Twitter.
He had earlier admitted meeting Natalia Veselnitskaya but insisted she had provided “no meaningful information”. He said she had wanted to talk about adoptions.
Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has been linked to the Russian government, has insisted she was never in possession of information that could have damaged Hillary Clinton.
The Russian lawyer said Donald Trump’s son and two senior campaign aides may have met her last summer because they were “longing” for such information. She has denied any connection with the Kremlin.
The email chain released by Donald Trump Jr. shows that:
On June 3, 2016, he received an email from intermediary Rob Goldstone promising documents from Russia that would incriminate Hillary Clinton and her supposed dealings with Russia;
One email from Rob Goldstone said the information they had been promised was “obviously very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump”;
The person who was to meet Donald Trump Jr. in New York was described as “a Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow”;
Within the week, a meeting had been arranged which included Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.
Donald Trump Jr. also posted a statement saying he was releasing the email chain “to be totally transparent” and reiterated that the Russian lawyer had “no information to provide”.
Rob Goldstone has previously denied any knowledge of involvement in the election by the Russian government.