Manafort case shows Mueller focus on foreign contacts
New revelations about Paul Manafort’s interactions with a Russian associate while he was leading President Donald Trump’s campaign provide a window into how extensively the special counsel has mapped interactions between Trump associates and Russians in his 20-month investigation.
When Manafort pleaded guilty in September to federal crimes related to his work advising Ukrainian politicians, Trump said the admissions by his former campaign chairman had “nothing to do” with the special counsel’s main mission, which Trump described as “looking for Russians involved in our campaign.” But new details inadvertently revealed in a court filing last week — including the fact that Manafort shared polling data about the 2016 race with an associate who allegedly has ties to Russian intelligence — indicate that special counsel Robert Mueller has also been scrutinizing interactions between Russians and Manafort while he helmed Trump’s presidential bid.
Manafort is among at least 14 Trump associates who interacted with Russians during the campaign and transition, according to public records and interviews.
The new examples of Manafort’s communications serve as a reminder that much about Mueller’s findings remains unknown in what are widely believed to be the closing weeks of his probe.
Advisers to Trump are bracing for a final report by the special counsel, a confidential document summarizing his findings that they believe could be turned over to senior Justice Department officials next month.
What Mueller will conclude — and even the full scope of his investigation — remains closely held by the special counsel.
Mueller’s appointment was precipitated by Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey in May 2017 — a move that also led the FBI to open an investigation into the president to determine whether he obstructed justice and whether he sought to aid Russia, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. That investigation, which has both a criminal and a counterintelligence component, was continued by Mueller.
The new information about Manafort indicates that Mueller has been exploring what he may have communicated to Russians while working for Trump. And it serves as a stark reminder that as Trump was offering Russia-friendly rhetoric on the campaign trail, his White House bid was led for a time by a man with long-standing ties to powerful Russian figures.
Manafort, an international lobbyist and political strategist, was embroiled in a multimillion-dollar financial dispute with Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska, who is close to President Vladimir Putin, according to court filings.