Politics & Policy

Look Who Really Was Wiretapping Trump Tower Resident Paul Manafort

Remember this Tweet from President Trump back on March 4? “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

Last night, from CNN — you know, that allegedly terrible failing network that the President enjoys sending gifs imagining himself hitting:

US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe.

The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.

Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive.

A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014. It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine’s former ruling party, the sources told CNN.

The surveillance was discontinued at some point last year for lack of evidence, according to one of the sources.

The FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year.

The article notes, “It’s unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance,” but considering how often a candidate and his campaign manager speak on the phone, the odds seem pretty good. (The FBI would presumably tap both Manafort’s cell phone and landline, right?)

Perhaps those wiretaps were entirely lawful — in fact, it is pretty likely. But it does mean that the president’s wiretapping claim wasn’t imaginary.

Our David French wonders if the Department of Justice was honest in its past denials of the allegation in Trump’s Tweet:

Obviously, wiretapping Manafort is not the same thing as wiretapping Trump, but the repeated, blanket denials seem disingenuous if Trump is actually on tape. The legal distinctions do matter, but these legal distinctions tend to get lost in the heat of partisan debate. I hope and pray that DOJ officials’ desire to rebut the president didn’t get ahead of their prudence. Would “no comment” have been a better response than a vigorous denial?

At the same time, Trump partisans need to understand that it’s outrageous to wiretap Manafort only if the law and evidence don’t support the DOJ’s action. If there was probable cause that he is or was an agent of a foreign power, his status as Trump’s campaign chair doesn’t and shouldn’t protect him from appropriate scrutiny. Did the FBI do the right thing? Time will tell.

Meanwhile:

Paul J. Manafort was in bed early one morning in July when federal agents bearing a search warrant picked the lock on his front door and raided his Virginia home. They took binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files, looking for evidence that Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, set up secret offshore bank accounts. They even photographed the expensive suits in his closet.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.

I hope he was dressed!

Looking Closer at the Only Competitive Statewide Governor’s Race of 2017

Tonight, Virginians see Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie face off in another gubernatorial debate. Yesterday, two state universities released new polls on the race; University of Mary Washington’s survey found Northam ahead, 44 percent to 39 percent, while the Suffolk University poll had the race tied, 40 percent to 40 percent. (The individual respondents in that latter poll split perfectly evenly, 202 to 202.)

Something that should worry Democrats: In the Suffolk poll, almost 20 percent of respondents said they had never heard of Ralph Northam; ten percent said the same for Gillespie. (His oh-so-close Senate bid from 2014 probably helps with his name recognition.)

A bit more than 29 percent said they had a favorable opinion of Northam, 22 percent said they had a negative one. The remaining 29 percent said they had no opinion or were undecided. Gillepsie had a 37-28 split on favorability.

Ralph Northam has been lieutenant governor for the past four years, and roughly half the state is unfamiliar with him. What, has he been in witness protection? I was initially underwhelmed with the Gillespie campaign’s “No-Show Northam” theme – mocking Northam for missing a lot of meetings. But maybe this will resonate; maybe the message can be even simpler: Did you know Ralph Northam has been your lieutenant governor for the past four years? If he hasn’t done anything that you’ve even heard about in that job . . .  why would anyone make him governor?

Northam’s campaign is running ads that introduce him to voters — emphasizing his service as a doctor in the U.S. Army and a pediatrician. Notice the closing image of his ad:

“Doctor-Veteran” Northam’s campaign doesn’t want to remind voters he’s been lieutenant governor for the past four years.

It’s mid-to-late September. Absentee voting starts Friday.

One oddity in the Mary Washington poll is also worth spotlighting. More respondents supported Northam than Gillespie, but when asked, “Regardless of how you might vote in the 2017 election for governor in Virginia, as far as you know, do you think most of your neighbors will vote for (Ed Gillespie, the Republican), most will vote for (Ralph Northam, the Democrat), or will most of them split their votes?” Among registered voters, 30 percent said Gillespie and 22 percent said Northam, and among likely voters, 32 percent said Gillespie and 25 percent said Northam. In other words, a slightly larger number of Virginians think their neighbors will mostly vote for Gillespie.

Finally, the Suffolk survey also asked, “Does Senator Tim Kaine deserve to be reelected in 2018 — yes or no?” and 43.4 percent answered yes, 45.8 percent answered no. I would be shocked if Kaine lost next year, but that feels like a terrible number for an incumbent. In fact, this isn’t just any incumbent; this is a guy who had 1.9 million people in the state vote to make him vice president last year!

ADDENDA: My inner taxpayer rejoices, my inner deficit hawk cringes:

A budget that creates fiscal room for a $1.5 trillion tax cut, if adopted, would then be followed by a tax bill that would specify rate cuts and other policy changes that don’t exceed that figure. Calling for a tax cut in the budget would let Republicans lower tax rates while making fewer tough decisions on what tax breaks to eliminate to help pay for the cuts.

Republicans contend that some expiring tax cuts would have been extended anyway and that their plan would boost economic growth and generate revenue, reducing the actual impact on the deficit below whatever overall number they agree on. Still, they may need to make some of the tax cuts expire after 10 years, leaving decisions to a future Congress they may not control.

With this latest turn in budget talks, Republicans are gradually shifting away from an earlier stance some took in favor of a tax plan that fully paid for itself in the first decade.

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