Washington – Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Thursday said an FBI raid on New Britain native Paul Manafort’s home last month is an indication of criminal wrongdoing.
“I’ve tried to be careful to say that what’s been established is probable cause that there has been criminal activity, and that Paul Manafort is connected to some criminal wrongdoing,” Blumenthal said in a press conference in Hartford.
Blumenthal said the judge who issued the search warrant for Manafort’s Virginia home was required to find probable cause of wrongdoing before he granted the FBI’s request, “and that’s why I reached the conclusion that probable cause has been established.”
“Now, Paul Manafort’s lawyers may disagree with the judge, and may disagree with the conclusion that there is probable cause of a crime and of Paul Manafort’s connection to it. But clearly, the special counsel has decided he cannot trust Manafort to produce these documents voluntarily or even in response to a subpoena,” Blumenthal said.
The FBI raid on the home of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman and confidant is considered by Blumenthal and others as evidence special prosecutor Robert Mueller is taking an aggressive, new approach to his investigation of whether there were any links between the Trump campaign and Russia’s attempts to influence the results of the 2016 presidential election.
“This pre-dawn raid is an extraordinary, indeed stunning development,” Blumenthal said. “It is a type of investigative tactic that is typical of the most serious investigations involving witnesses or targets that are uncooperative or untrusted.”
Blumenthal, a former U.S. attorney, also said the raid “seems to decimate the claim Paul Manafort is cooperating with this investigation.”
Manafort has said he’s cooperating with both Mueller’s investigation and those initiated by several congressional committees.
The FBI agents appeared at Manafort’s home the day before he was scheduled to testify behind closed doors before the Senate Judiciary Committee and a day after he met voluntarily with Senate Intelligence Committee staff members.
Blumenthal is expected to be able to question Manafort in person because the Senate Judiciary Committee hopes to call him as a witness in public hearings on the Russia investigation in September.
Blumenthal, a member of the panel, said he expects the hearings to lead the committee to issue a report that will show whether legislation or further action by the Justice Department is needed.
Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni had no comment on Blumenthal’s allegations or the FBI raid.
John Dowd, a top Trump lawyer, has called the raid on Manafort’s home “a gross abuse of the judicial process” for the sake of “shock value.” Dowd also said the FBI had employed tactics normally seen in “in Russia not America.”
Blumenthal disagreed with Dowd’s comments, saying he would trust the federal judge – and Mueller – to take only the appropriate action. “This kind of raid would require serious scrutiny,” he added.
Before the July 26 FBI raid, Manafort was reported to be under investigation for his business dealings with Jared Kushner, a real estate investor who is Trump’s son-in-law, and for his role in a 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer with links to the Kremlin.
Manafort, a longtime lobbyist, also drew the scrutiny of federal investigators for his work for the Ukrainian government.
Ukrainian lawmaker Sergii Leshchenko claims a document found in a safe in Kiev may be evidence that Manafort tried to mask payments to him from ousted pro-Moscow Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych’s party. Manafort resigned from Trump’s campaign in August of 2016, shortly after his ties to Yanukovych’s party came to light, and federal agents are investigating whether Manafort violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act in connection with his work for the Ukranian government.
Since the government rarely prosecutes cases related to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and Manafort’s consulting firm retroactively filed forms with the Justice Department to be in compliance with the act, the New York Times reported the FBI’s search warrant for tax and foreign banking records “suggests that investigators are looking at criminal charges related to the federal Bank Secrecy Act, which requires Americans to report their foreign banking accounts.”
The raid also suggests Mueller may be trying to “squeeze” Manafort for information on others.
Reporter Kyle Constable contributed to this story.