Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian electoral interference continues to ramp up. On Friday, NBC News reported that the ex–FBI head and special counsel had issued subpoenas seeking testimony from multiple public-relations executives tied to ex–Trump campaign head Paul Manafort. This is the first time Mueller has sought grand-jury testimony for his investigation; it’s also another piece of bad news for Manafort, who more than ever appears to be an essential figure in the ongoing inquiry.
Before running Donald Trump’s presidential campaign last year, Manafort worked for a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party led by Viktor Yanukovych, who was eventually driven out by a popular revolt. Manafort promoted Kremlin-friendly interests through sophisticated public-relations campaigns, but did not register as a foreign agent until earlier this year. A criminal investigation into Manafort’s foreign activity, which stretches back many years, was underway even before the 2016 election.
The specific lobbying effort Mueller is looking into involves an effort to gain Ukraine entry into the European Union. But NBC reports that Mueller is trying to piece together a larger picture, which include’s Manafort’s “offshore banking transactions, his tax compliance and his real estate dealings.”
“We think they are trying to figure out, was this a legitimate project?” one executive told NBC.
Manafort was in the room during the now-infamous June 9, 2016 meeting in which top Trump campaign officials met with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Last month, Manafort’s house in Virginia was raided by the FBI in a clear sign that his role in Trump’s campaign would be central to Mueller’s investigation. Friday’s revelations are another sign of that focus.
Later on Friday, the Washington Post reported that Mueller had also issued subpoenas to SGR LLC, a consulting firm that had done business with ex–national security advisor Michael Flynn. Investigators were seeking information about a Dutch company Flynn worked with that had ties to Turkish president Recep Erdoğan; Flynn had hired SGR to help manage the account. Flynn’s ties to Turkey and Erdoğan have come under close scrutiny since the presidential election.
Separately, The Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller is looking into what role Flynn, who was forced out of the Trump administration in February, may have played in soliciting Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails during the campaign.
President Trump has been furious about the ongoing investigation. He has reportedly fumed to multiple GOP senators in recent weeks that Republican allies in Congress are not doing more to shield him from it.
This article has been updated to reflect the subpoenas involving Flynn.