In a move that should concern the Trump legal team, FBI agents raided the Alexandria home of President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort a couple weeks ago despite Manafort’s reported cooperation with investigators. Given the fact that Manafort was turning over requests documents, it is notable that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators would want to carry out such a heavy handed and public display of power. I have long maintained that the most important developments in this investigation will likely concern Manafort and Gen. Michael Flynn, who are the most vulnerable to criminal charges and prosecutorial pressure. They are the weakest links in this chain for prosecutors interests in trying to coerce cooperation of key witnesses. What is clear is that the relationship between Manafort and the Special Counsel has materially changed. A pre-dawn, unannounced raid on your home is meant to concentrate your mind on where you want to be during a rapidly approaching storm. A raid tends to concentrate the mind of a witness on the future.
The raid occurred on July 26th before dawn. Notably, Manafort had just turned over documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee the day before. The timing makes the raid particularly intriguing. It is possible that the investigators determined that Manafort was being more forthcoming with the congressional investigators or had turned over material not previously given to the Special Counsel. In any case, this was a strong message to Manafort and Flynn that they cannot count on protection from either the White House or Congress.The search warrant was broad and agents were seen leaving with material. While I have discussed the relatively rarity of prosecution under the Act, Manafort would seem more vulnerable to a charge under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). Only a handful of such cases have been prosecuted since the revision of the Act and these violations are uniformly address administratively. However, that does not bar a prosecution.
Reports indicate that the FBI seized bank records, fueling suspicion that they may also be targeting Manafort for violations of the federal Bank Secrecy Act, which requires Americans to report their foreign banking accounts.
With a looming grand jury, Manafort’s greatest risk remains false statements to investigators. The raid may have been meant to concentrate his mind on the risks that he is facing and the need to get to safer legal ground in the coming storm.