Manafort Panics As Feds Uncover $100 Million Money Trail From Russian ‘Clients’
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s expanded focus on President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort has intensified the hunt for his financial records through a labyrinth of offshore bank and business accounts has become an important prong of the investigation into the Kremlin’s attempts to sway the 2016 presidential election.
Citing two sources familiar with the matter, The McClatchy DC Bureau reports that investigators are zeroing in on whether Manafort may have engaged in any money laundering schemes after discovering he earned between $80 million and $100 million from pro-Moscow Ukrainian and Russian clients.
Overall, the probe centers on whether anyone on Donald Trump’s campaign, or other Trump associates, assisted Moscow’s election meddling. Russia’s cyber mischief last year was designed to help the real estate mogul win in November.
But Mueller’s team may also pursue “any matters” that are found in the course of the probe.
Manafort, who chaired the Trump campaign for three months in mid-2016 and earlier spent two months coordinating the search for pro-Trump delegates, is a prime target as investigators attempt to win the cooperation of key members of the campaign’s inner circle, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the inquiry is confidential.
Given his pro-Kremlin connections and his closeness to the campaign, Manafort was uniquely positioned to play a role in any collusion between the campaign and operatives working on behalf of the Russian government to help elect Trump.
Whether Manafort can be squeezed depends in part on whether he failed to report foreign income and overseas bank accounts annually to the Internal Revenue Service as required by law. The volume of money said to be involved and the time elapsed could put him at significant risk.
“If Manafort is shown to have violated the tax laws and the disclosure laws in connection with his foreign income, then he may be facing substantial jail time and large fines,” said Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor and the executive director of Columbia Law School’s Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity. If the violations are willful, the penalties go up.
As The Bureau notes, that’s the sort of pressure that could cause Manafort to cut a deal with Mueller under which he might receive leniency in return for divulging what contact he and other Trump aides had with Russian officials and operatives during 2016.
“Based on my experience with prosecutors, it would be typical that they’re getting financial information to pressure Manafort to cooperate in a bigger case,” said former Justice Department prosecutor Barak Cohen, who is now a lawyer at Perkins Coie in Washington.
There has been no indication to date that Manafort is spilling the beans to the feds. But clearly, the heat is on. Last month, FBI agents raided his home in Alexandria, Va. seeking more details of his finances and turning up the heat.
This month Bloomberg reported that Mueller has recently used a Washington grand jury to send subpoenas to some international banks for records about Manafort accounts and transactions. Other Justice Department this year also obtained records for about 25 foreign bank accounts and businesses that Manafort used in Cyprus, a popular money haven for Russian oligarchs.