Recent revelations about special counsel Robert Mueller’s
probe into Russia’s election interference and potential
collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign team indicate
that the investigation has reached the point where
Mueller may soon start announcing criminal charges.
The Wall Street Journal and CNN reported on Friday that Mueller
had obtained a search warrant for records of the
“inauthentic” accounts Facebook shut down earlier this month and
the targeted ads these accounts purchased during the 2016
Legal experts said the
warrant meant Mueller had been able to convince a
federal judge that there was good reason to believe a foreign
entity had committed a crime by making campaign contributions in
the form of ads and the spread of fake news, and that evidence of
that crime would be found on Facebook.
Three days later, the New York Times reported
that Mueller told Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul
Manafort he was going to be formally charged with a crime
following a raid on his Virginia home over the summer.
Mueller has also issued
subpoenas to Manafort’s spokesman Jason Maloni and
former attorney Melissa Laurenza to testify before a federal
The developments indicate that Mueller’s
probe “is nearing the litigation stage,”
Institution fellows and legal experts Benjamin Wittes and
“Combined with a flurry of stories about subpoenas,
grand-jury appearances and other activity, it’s reasonable to
expect that Mueller is moving forward on a number of different
fronts and is getting close to entering a litigation phase,”
wrote Wittes and
Hennessey, a former attorney for the National Security
“The key question is what he will allege, to what extent it
will deal with campaign activity, and against whom he will allege
it,” they added.
President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald
reported on Monday that the FBI obtained a warrant from
the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last year
to surveil Manafort, which typically requires “some
indication of criminal conduct,” Wittes and Hennessey said,
rather than merely “a showing of probable cause that a crime has
or will be committed.”
Manafort was previously
surveilled under a separate FISA authorization that began in
2014 as the FBI scrutinized his lobbying work on behalf of the
pro-Russia Party of Regions in Ukraine and his business dealings
with Russian entities.
That surveillance ended due to a lack of evidence,
according to CNN, but was later restarted under the new warrant
that extended into 2017. Information obtained from the newly
discovered FISA warrant was shared with Mueller’s team.
An early foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, Carter
Page, was also placed under FBI surveillance following a
trip he took to Moscow last July.
It is still unclear whether Manafort has already been
indicted, and if so, on what charges. New York
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was recently recruited by
Mueller to help investigate Manafort for possible financial
crimes and money laundering. The IRS’s
criminal-investigations unit has been brought onto the
investigation to examine similar issues.
Manafort’s spokesman did not respond to a request for
It is difficult to predict whether Mueller will charge
specific foreign entities with a crime for what could be
perceived as illicit campaign contributions — there is little if
any precedent for an election interference as brazen and
multifaceted as Russia’s.
Taken together, though, wrote Wittes and Hennessey, the
developments signal that “Mueller’s investigation has reached a
critical stage — the point at which he may soon start making
allegations in public.”
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