Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray this week asking whether the bureau ever briefed, or warned President Trump’s camp about any alleged attempts by the Russian government or those connected with the Russians to infiltrate the presidential campaign.
But the wording in Grassley's letter was also met with backlash by Arizona Republican John McCain (R-AZ) and some of his former staff who contend that during the 2008 campaign there was no warning from U.S. intelligence but that those warning came earlier in 2005 and 2006, according to sources who spoke to Circa.
Grassley wanted to know if the FBI warned Trump about former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was allegedly under investigation by the FBI since 2014 for his lobbying work and extensive connections to Russian oligarchs, as reported by Circa.
“After he was fired, [FBI Director James] Comey acknowledged in public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee that President Trump had never been one of the individuals under investigation,” Grassley states in the letter. “Recent news articles have claimed that Paul Manafort was one of the campaign associates under FBI investigation. This raises the question of whether the FBI ever alerted Mr. Trump to the FBI’s counter-intelligence concerns regarding his campaign manager and others associated with the campaign—so that he could take defensive action to prevent the campaign from being infiltrated.”
The FBI told Circa the bureau does not comment on ongoing inquiries from Congressional members.
“We have the letter but in keeping with our usual practice any response would be given directly to the member of Congress who sent the inquiry,” said FBI spokeswoman Carol Cratty.
Grassley asked Wray to respond to his inquiry by Oct. 4, the letter states.
In June, Circa reported that a decade earlier McCain also had run-ins with many of the same players that haunted the Trump campaign: Manafort, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and former Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. Oleg Deripaska, a Russian metals magnet, had his visa blocked by the United States over concerns within the intelligence community about his ties to Moscow.
McCain met twice with Deripaska and the meetings were arranged by Manafort and his lobbying firm partner Rick Davis, who later would become McCain's campaign manager, as reported by Circa in June.
McCain's office did not return Circa's request for comment, but spokeswoman Julie Tarallo told CNN that "Neither Senator McCain nor anyone on his staff recalls receiving such warnings from the intelligence community.”
However, John Weaver, a former top campaign adviser to McCain, told Circa in June, that during his time with the senator U.S. intelligence raised concerns to the Senator’s staff about work that Manafort, and his then lobbying partner Rick Davis, who would later become McCain’s campaign manager, were doing overseas, as well as McCain’s contacts with a Russian oligarch.
"We got two heads ups,” said Weaver, in an earlier interview.
Still, Weaver, disputed parts of Grassley’s letter Friday telling Circa that during the 2008 campaign they were “not contacted or warned by anybody.” The warnings came earlier, in 2005 and 2006, and to McCain’s Senate staff, as Circa reported in June.
Tarallo told CNN that McCain "had two interactions with Mr. Deripaska in 2006, and both were social occasions and entirely incidental.”
In the letter, Grassley asked Wray to inform him “If the FBI did provide a defensive briefing or similar warning to the campaign, then that would raise important questions about how the Trump campaign responded. On the other hand, if the FBI did not alert the campaign, then that would raise serious questions about what factors contributed to its decision and why it appears to have been handled differently in a very similar circumstance involving a previous campaign.”
"Then we got another warning about Deripaska,” Weaver added. “Bush administration was not happy. He was persona non grata, banned I think from US from getting visa in some dispute with the FBI over some ties to bad guys."
Regarding Manafort and Davis, Weaver said he told the Senator, “to send Rick [Davis] packing. He agreed initially. I told him don't let Rick cry in your ear and take him back. He said he wouldn't. But Rick cried in his ear and he got to come back at some point.”
"Manafort was trying to get into the campaign officially but I kept him out,” Weaver said.
Weaver said that the difference between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin versus McCain’s situation is that the Arizona senator’s views on Russia and Putin hardened during that time-period, “and his already strong commitment to pro-democracy movements in Eastern Europe solidified as well.”
“My sense is that Davis and Manafort, who were already doing pro-Putin work against American national interests, were using potential meetings with McCain --- who didn't know this and neither did we until after the fact -- as bait to secure more rubles from the oligarchs,” said Weaver.
Weaver stated in June that “U.S. intelligence raised concerns to McCain’s staff about the Davis Manafort work.”
CNN revealed this week that the FBI also sought a FISA warrant from the courts to wiretap Manafort in 2014, which was then under former FBI Director James Comey. The FBI's wiretap allegedly ended for lack of evidence. But then in 2016, the FBI allegedly sought a second FISA warrant to wiretap Manafort, which continued until early this year, according to CNN.