PanAm Podcast: Manafort Angle Complicates Trump Investigation, Unlikely to Directly Implicate President

This week’s bombshell revelations that the FBI opened, suspended, and then reopened an investigation involving wiretapping and surveillance of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort have dominated political headlines. The “re-opening” of an investigation sounds all too familiar…in fact Hillary Clinton claims that she would be president today, were it not for James Comey’s controversial decision to reopen the Clinton email investigation mere days before the election.

The Manafort angle provides interesting new fodder on two fronts: first of all, it appears to lend some degree of credibility to Trump’s claims that the Obama administration was wiretapping him and his campaign, even if it was indirectly.

As noted by the Wall Street Journal, “It was presumably a tough decision for a judge to issue a secret warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, enabling the administration to spy on someone connected with the presidential campaign of its political adversaries.”

This raises troubling questions about the Obama administration, and Obama’s irate reaction to Trump’s March 4 tweets in which he levied accusations of espionage against his predecessor, prompting a vehement denial from President Obama. Such a development is unprecedented in nature: to have the FBI, under one political party, investigating top officials in the campaign of another political party, in upcoming elections.

According to the WSJ, as well, two of the three sources that CNN is relying on for its information have alleged that the evidence is inconclusive. However, there have also been rumors that Mueller, long known as a hardballer, has threatened Manafort with indictment. The nature of the charges remain speculative, but they are widely believed to involve his longstanding lobbying work with the regime of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, perhaps in conjunction with Manafort’s personal finances and real estate investment.

Interestingly, a lobbying firm founded by former Clinton campaign head John Podesta, and his brother Tony, has also had close ties to the regime of the former Ukrainian president.

It now appears that Robert Mueller has dramatically expanded the scope of the investigation, which is likely to infuriate the Trump White House, which has repeatedly stated that the only focus of the investigation should be alleged Russian meddling and hacking in the 2016 election.

While Manafort’s involvement in this investigation should be of concern for Trump, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Trump needs to sound the alarm bells. In order for Mueller to sink Trump he needs a smoking gun: a document, a phone call, an email, that proves conclusively that Trump colluded with the Russian government, and the hackers in its employ, to influence the election.

Until that very unlikely piece of information emerges, Trump has little to worry about. Manafort, on the other hand, may be in the scope of federal prosecutors regarding some type of influence peddling or quid pro quo charge. They are serious charges, but they can also be very difficult to prove, as demonstrated by the recent overturning of the conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell.

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