Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort was being wiretapped under secret court orders before and after the 2016 presidential election, according to a new report.
The surveillance of Manafort continued into earlier this year, including a period of time when he was known to communicate with Donald Trump, CNN reports. Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller's team has been provided details of the communications.
The wiretap collected intelligence, sparking concern among investigators that he encouraged Russians to assist with the campaign, according to three sources close to the probe. Two sources cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive yet, according to CNN:
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.
Sources say the second warrant was part of the FBI's efforts to investigate ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives. Such warrants require the approval of top Justice Department and FBI officials, and the FBI must provide the court with information showing suspicion that the subject of the warrant may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.
The FBI's interest in Manafort deepened last fall due to intercepted communications between him and suspected Russian operatives, but it is unclear when the new warrant actually started. The FISA warrant that was granted to monitor Manafort gave the FBI permission to conduct an investigation into Manafort's storage facility, but it is unclear what they found.
The communication between Manafort and Trump continued after Trump became president and long after it became public knowledge that the FBI was investigating Manafort's Russian ties.
Manafort's spokesman and the White House both declined to comment for this story.
Manafort previously claimed that he never "knowingly"communicated with Russian intelligence operatives during the 2016 election and that he played no role in "undermin[ing] the interests of the United States."
The FBI has actively been interested in Manafort's dealings since at least 2014 due to the investigation into former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, whose "pro-Russian regime was ousted amid street protests," according to CNN:
Investigators have spent years probing any possible role played by Manafort's firm and other US consultants, including the Podesta Group and Mercury LLC, that worked with the former Ukraine regime. The basis for the case hinged on the failure by the US firms to register under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, a law that the Justice Department only rarely uses to bring charges.
All three firms earlier this year filed retroactive registrations with the Justice Department.
It hasn't proved easy to make a case.
Last year, Justice Department prosecutors concluded that there wasn't enough evidence to bring charges against Manafort or anyone of the other US subjects in the probe, according to sources briefed on the investigation.
The FBI and Justice Department have to periodically seek renewed FISA authorization to continue their surveillance.