National Commentary

FBI’s Manafort Raid Tightens the Noose

Among the many things that Trump doesn’t understand about how the real world works outside his flawed, distorted, narrow almost solipsistic bully-coward mapping of reality is that, among the big boys on the global schoolyard, great bluster is a sign of weakness, not strength.

It is very likely there are some in influential positions at the White House who might secretly desire a nuclear conflagration, and this should be a cause of serious concern. But we can perhaps take heart from the memo sent by Defense Secretary James Mattis to all DOD employees last week. “Citizens who’ve never met us trust us to do the right thing, never abusing our position nor looking the other way when we see something wrong.”

No mention of Trump per se in that memo, but I’d like to read between its lines that were a deranged Trump ever to take the nuclear football and run with it, he would be tackled and not enabled. Mattis’ strong words about North Korea yesterday subsumed Trump’s from Tuesday to clarify that it would not be mere threats, but aggressive acts that would be met with force, most importantly including a reference to the U.S.’s missile defense capabilities to neutralize whatever North Korea might desire to launch against U.S. targets if things were really to get crazy.

The bigger news is the FBI’s raid of the home of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. The developing public narrative, augmented by subpoenas and now a search warrant, raid and likely document seizure by the FBI are evidence of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s tightening noose around Trump’s neck.

In fact, Trump’s latest bombast may be just another one of those distractions aimed at diverting the attention of the media from the progress in Mueller’s investigation, and parallel efforts in Congress. One of the biggest of those smoke screens came on July 27, just two weeks ago, when the blockbuster testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by international businessman and Russian money laundering investigator Bill Browder who is generally known to be Vladimir Putin’s Number One enemy.

That was the day that Trump, out of the blue, tweeted about banning transgender persons from the U.S. military, a development that dominated the headlines, resulting in virtually no media coverage of Browder’s testimony.

Remember that Manafort was in that watershed meeting in June 2016 with key Russian and Trump agents ostensibly to discuss some quid pro quo between the two entities that involved the Russian’s willingness to spill high-level dirt, and theoretically to engage in other operations targeted against Trump’s presidential opponent Hillary Clinton.

That meeting is “ground zero” for investigating whether there is evidence that there was knowing collusion between Trump and the Russians in the efforts by the Russians to interfere and skew the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Remember that despite the claim of Manafort’s attorney that he’s cooperating with the investigation, there needed to be established by the FBI beforehand a persuasive case establishing sufficient evidence of “probable cause” of some wrongdoing to be taken before a judge to gain approval for the search warrant.

Browder’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee provided just the kind of context that investigators needed to pursue their case for collusion.

A lot of it is centered on two things, Putin’s obsession to remove key Russian players from the U.S.’s Magnitsky sanctions enacted against Russia in 2012, and the Russians’ perception that Trump would be their man to get that job done.

Two books taken together provide the necessary predicates for this. The first is Browder’s own best seller, Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and One Man’s Fight for Justice, detailing Browder’s experiences and how he pursued the money trail to nail Putin’s direct complicity in the death of Browder’s attorney, Sergei Magnitsky.

The other is the original authoritative book on the role of the Russian mafia in the U.S., Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America, by the late former Village Voice reporter Robert I. Friedman.

The Russian money laundering M.O., and its American arm, implicate Trump beyond any doubt.


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at