WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, lashed out on Tuesday at reports he was wiretapped by federal authorities, and his spokesman sent out a statement demanding a leaks probe and suggesting the surveillance was politically motivated.
The statement issued by spokesman Jason Maloni on behalf of Manafort came a day after CNN reported that a secret court had authorized surveillance of Manafort under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), under which Americans can be targeted if they are suspected of acting as an agent of a foreign country.
Manafort became Trump’s campaign manager in June 2016 but was forced to resign two months later amid reports of his business relationship with the Kremlin-backed former Ukrainian leader, Viktor Yanukovich.
Manafort is being investigated as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The court initially authorized FISA surveillance of Manafort in 2014 but that lapsed in 2016 for lack of evidence, CNN reported. FISA surveillance resumed later in 2016 and continued into 2017 as part of the FBI’s probe into ties between Trump campaign associates and Russian operatives, CNN said.
“If true, it is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged,” Maloni said in the statement on behalf of Manafort.
“The U.S. Department of Justice’s Inspector General should immediately conduct an investigation into these leaks and to examine the motivations behind a previous administration’s effort to surveil a political opponent,” he said.
The special counsel’s office and the FBI both declined to comment on Maloni’s statement. They also did not comment on CNN’s original report about surveillance of Manafort.
Maloni urged the Justice Department to release any intercepts between Manafort and any non-Americans so people “can come to the same conclusion as the DOJ (Justice Department) - there is nothing there.”
As part of the special counsel’s probe, federal agents with search warrants raided Manafort’s Virginia home in July. The New York Times, citing two people close to the case, reported on Monday that prosecutors later told Manafort they planned to indict him.
CNN said interest in Manafort deepened because of intercepted communications between him and Russian operatives, and among the Russians. The government eavesdropping continued into 2017, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to Trump after he became president. CNN said it was unclear if Trump was picked up on the surveillance.
Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch