It perhaps is a minor thing, five cell phones, but the Mueller investigation is moving methodically and more interestingly has some fascinating possibilities, since it might not be about Manafort’s Ukraine connections. Ultimately it will still be about money, even under the “wider mandate”, but since it’s not about Ukraine, what will be notable will be the time periods and of course the contacts for these corroborating phones.
In a new court filing on Thursday, the special counsel’s office revealed additional details of the probe that indicate he has recently expanded his investigation of Paul Manafort. The further implication of this filing is that Mueller is actively building a collusion case against the former Trump campaign chairman or other Trump campaign officials, and potentially basing it on the testimony of former Manafort deputy Rick Gates.
The new details show that Mueller’s team acquired search warrants on five telephone numbers last month, just two weeks after Gates began to officially cooperate in Mueller’s probe.
As Mueller laid out in another response to Manafort’s attorneys earlier this week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last August gave him authority to investigate Manafort on at least two fronts.
- First was whether Manafort “[c]ommitted a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States.”
- Second was, whether he “[c]ommitted a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych.”
If the warrants against the five phones are “not the subject of either of the current prosecutions involving Manafort,” then they would seem to not be connected to the crimes arising out of the Ukrainian imbroglio, which is the subject of his current prosecutions.
By process of elimination, they are related to either a potential collusion case against Manafort, or additional targets. If there are additional targets, though, they would have to be connected in some way to Mueller’s wider mandate to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and/or the Trump campaign’s potential cooperation with that interference and links to Russia.
Legal analyst Renato Mariotti observed on Twitter that this new warrant could very well mean that Mueller is seeking “historical cell site information” for Manafort’s old phones, which would mean he’s trying to track the timing of Manafort’s previous movements. Again, this all came soon after Gates began cooperating with the investigation.