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President Donald Trump said he was surprised to hear about the FBI’s July predawn raid of his former campaign chairman’s home, saying it was a “very strong signal.”
The raid – reportedly an effort to obtain Paul Manafort’s tax documents and foreign banking records – was conducted as part of the agency’s ongoing investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“They do that very seldom,” Trump told reporters on Thursday afternoon. “I was very, very surprised to see it.”
Trump went on to say that Manafort is a “very decent man,” but minimized his contributions to the presidential campaign, which Manafort worked on for five months. After serving as chairman for nearly three months, Manafort, a longtime Republican operative, resigned from the campaign amid reports of his ties to the Russian government.
“I know Mr. Manafort – I haven’t spoken to him in a long time, but I know him – he was with the campaign, as you know, for a very short period of time – for a relatively short period of time,” Trump said. “But I’ve always known him to be a good man.”
Trump said that the raid, which he considered a “tough” move, was a “very strong signal,” but did not elaborate on what he believes it indicates.
“To wake him up – perhaps his family was there – I think that’s pretty tough stuff,” Trump said.
Trump’s remarks were notably different from those of his chief counsel, John Dowd, who wrote in an email to a Wall Street Journal reporter that the raid was “a gross abuse of the judicial process,” calling FBI special counsel Robert Mueller’s inability to “exhaust less intrusive methods” a “fatal flaw in the warrant process.” Fox News obtained the email on Thursday.
Former Justice Department officials, FBI agents, and federal prosecutors say there are a couple of reasons why the FBI opted to conduct the raid, rather than subpoena Manafort, including the need to move quickly and avoid any Fifth Amendment objections. But they argue the most likely reason the FBI sought, and was granted, the “no-knock warrant” is that federal officials didn’t think Manafort, who has been cooperating with investigators’ requests, could be trusted.
The fact that the FBI was able to obtain a search warrant indicates that Mueller managed to convince a federal judge that Manafort would try to conceal or destroy documents subpoenaed by a grand jury.
“Mueller and his staff may have decided that, despite the claims of cooperation from Manafort’s lawyer, Manafort could not be trusted to provide all of the documents requested by subpoena,” wrote Harvard Law School professor Alex Whitting, who served for a decade as a federal prosecutor at the Justice Department and the US Attorney’s office in Boston.
The New York Times reported last August that a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine designated Manafort $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments as part of his decade-long consulting work for its former leader, Viktor Yanukovych.
The payments, and Manafort’s activities in Ukraine more broadly, were examined more closely following Yanukovych’s ouster on corruption charges in 2014. Manafort has been associated with at least 15 bank accounts and 10 companies in Cyprus, dating back to 2007, NBC reported in March, and he was reportedly $17 million in debt to pro-Russian interests by the time he joined the Trump campaign.
Natasha Bertrand contributed to this report.