FBI agents raided the home in Alexandria, Virginia, of President Trump’s former campaign chairman, arriving in the pre-dawn hours late last month and seizing documents and other materials related to the special counsel investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The raid, which occurred without warning on July 26, signaled an aggressive new approach by special counsel Robert Mueller and his team in dealing with a key figure in the Russia inquiry. Paul Manafort has been under increasing pressure as Mueller’s team looked into his personal finances and his professional career as a highly paid foreign political consultant.
Using a search warrant, agents appeared the day Manafort was scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee and a day after he met voluntarily with Senate Intelligence Committee staff members.
The search warrant requested documents related to tax, banking, and other matters. People familiar with the search said agents departed the Manafort residence with a trove of material, including binders prepared ahead of Manafort’s congressional testimony.
Investigators in the Russia inquiry have previously sought documents with subpoenas, which are less intrusive and confrontational than a search warrant. With a warrant, agents can inspect a physical location and seize any useful information.
‘‘I think it adds a shock and awe enforcement component to what until now has followed a natural path for a white-collar investigation,’’ said Jacob Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor. ‘‘More so than anything else we’ve seen so far, it really does send a powerful law enforcement message when the search warrant is used. . . . That message is that the special counsel team will use all criminal investigative tools available to advance the investigation as quickly and as comprehensively as possible.’’
Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, confirmed that agents executed a warrant at one of the political consultant’s homes and that Manafort cooperated with the search.
Manafort has been voluntarily providing documents to congressional committees investigating Russia’s election interference. The search warrant indicates that investigators may have argued to a federal judge that they had reason to think Manafort could not be trusted to turn over all records in response to a grand jury subpoena.
The raid also could have been intended to send a message to Trump’s former campaign chairman that he should not expect gentle treatment or legal courtesies from Mueller’s team members, who already have begun combing through Manafort’s complicated financial past.
The documents seized in the raid include materials Manafort already had provided to Congress, said people familiar with the search, and the significance of what was obtained remained unclear Wednesday evening.
‘‘If the FBI wanted the documents, they could just ask [Manafort] and he would have turned them over,’’ said one adviser close to the White House.
Josh Stueve, spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment, as did Reginald Brown, an attorney for Manafort.
‘‘Mr. Manafort has consistently cooperated with law enforcement and other serious inquiries and did so on this occasion as well,’’ said Maloni, the Manafort spokesman.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former US attorney, called the search ‘‘a significant and even stunning development,’’ noting that such raids are generally reserved for ‘‘the most serious criminal investigations dealing with uncooperative or untrusted potential targets.’’
The search happened on July 26, the day Paul Manafort was to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
‘‘A federal judge signing this warrant would demand persuasive evidence of probable cause that a serious crime has been committed and that less intrusive and dramatic investigative means would be ineffective,’’ he said in a statement.
Mueller has increased legal pressure on Manafort, consolidating under his authority unrelated investigations of various aspects of Manafort’s professional and personal life.
Manafort’s allies fear that Mueller hopes to build a case against Manafort unrelated to the 2016 campaign, in hopes that he would provide information against others in Trump’s inner circle in exchange for lessening his legal exposure.
Manafort has provided more than 300 pages of documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Senate and House intelligence committees. The information includes notes Manafort took while attending a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016.