Do reports (if true) that the government wiretapped Paul Manafort, including during times when he worked for candidate Trump, vindicate President Trump’s claims about the Obama administration wiring tapping his campaign? I don’t think so.
To see whether Trump has been vindicated, we need to consider what he actually said about wiretapping. The tweet that generated the controversy said this:
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
As I argued when the same issue arose after it was revealed that the FBI had tapped the wires of another one-time Trump campaign operative, Carter Page: “In my opinion, the tapping of Carter Page’s wires does not constitute the tapping of Donald Trump’s wires.”
Overhearing communications in which Trump participated (assuming that happened) differs from tapping Trump’s “wires.” As was the case with Carter Page, the substance of Trump’s claim — that the Obama administration engaged in surveillance directed at him — remains unsubstantiated.
David French makes the same point at NRO. He believes, however, that if Trump participated in conversations with Manafort that were captured by wire taps, the Justice Department blanket denial of Trump’s allegations can be viewed as disingenuous.
In French’s view, the real question is whether the standard for seeking and authorizing the wire tap of Manafort was met — i.e. whether there was probable cause to believe that he was the agent of a foreign power. If this standard was met, then Manafort’s status as Trump’s campaign chair shouldn’t protect him from appropriate scrutiny, and Trump has no grounds for complaining. The taps were neither “terrible” nor “McCarthyism.” And, as noted, Trump wasn’t tapped. At most, and we don’t know whether this was the case, some of his communications were picked up incidentally.
This article by Chuck Ross in the Daily Caller bears on the grounds for authorizing surveillance of Manafort. Did the government rely to any degree on the now-discredited Trump dossier prepared on behalf of his political enemies? Unnamed sources of Fox News’ Ed Henry say the federal judges who approved the warrant “are privately miffed” that the Manafort warrant was tied to the dossier, which was funded by a political ally of Hillary Clinton’s.
For more on the Manafort wiretapping and issues relating to the Mueller investigation, readers may be interested in this article from the anti-Trump site Lawfare.