On Monday night, CNN broke news that federal agents wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort during stretches of time both before and after the 2016 election, including early this year — “a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.”
Not only does CNN’s report suggest there could be records of communications Manafort had with Trump, but it indicates investigators had good reason to believe Trump’s former campaign chairman was serving as an “agent of a foreign power.” Manafort reportedly made millions working for an oligarch closely tied to Putin, and presided over the Trump campaign during a time when it first come under FBI scrutiny for its Russia ties. CNN reports that “[t]he FBI interest in Manafort” dates back to when he was working on behalf of pro-Putin interests in Ukraine in 2014.
For WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, CNN’s bombshell report vindicated Trump’s allegation about President Obama “tapping” his phones.
Trump: I was “wire tapped”
CNN: Haha. That idiot @realDonaldTrump thinks he was wiretapped.
..Six months later..
CNN: Trump was wiretapped
— Julian Assange (@JulianAssange) September 19, 2017
But news that Manafort was wiretapped does not in fact vindicate Trump’s claim. As CNN reporter Marshall Cohen pointed out, the wiretap in question pertained to Paul Manafort the person, not Trump Tower, where Manafort reportedly bought a condo with cash in 2006.
Wiretap CNN reported was on Manafort the person, not Trump Tower the building. Though he obviously had some contact with the tower.
— Marshall Cohen (@Marshall_Cohen) September 19, 2017
CNN reported that it is “unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance.” But as Lawfare explains, even if Trump was picked up, “incidental collection” of that sort happens routinely during the course of criminal and counterintelligence investigations.
“Press reports have indicated for months that at least one, and potentially multiple, close associates of Donald Trump were subject to FISA warrants,” Lawfare notes. “It is possible now—as has been noted many times since Trump tweeted his accusation in March—that if the U.S. president was in communication with these individuals, his communications might have been incidentally collected. That isn’t the same as being wiretapped—and being subject to incidental collection as part of lawful collection against a third party really is not the same thing as being wiretapped by President Obama.”
Lacking evidence, the president has continued accuse the Obama administration of misconduct. Just last week, Trump baselessly accused former National Security Adviser Susan Rice of wrongdoing.
The WikiLeaks connection
Assange isn’t exactly an objective source when it comes to commentary about the Trump campaign’s shady foreign dealings.
Trump’s closing campaign message revolved around emails hacked from Hillary Clinton’s campaign that were then published by WikiLeaks — he publicly mentioned them more than 160 times during the campaign’s closing month.
While Trump has repeatedly tried to downplay the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled on his behalf, his own appointees acknowledge that WikiLeaks aided the Trump-Russia effort.
In April, Trump’s CIA director, Mike Pompeo, denounced Assange’s organization, saying WikiLeaks “walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service.”
“It’s time to call out Wikileaks for what it is — a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” he added.