If President Trump spoke with Paul Manafort while his former campaign manager was being wiretapped, experts say there's no quick legal route to disclose the existence or content of intercepted calls.
Public disclosure isn't guaranteed because two reported wiretap orders targeting Manafort were issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, rather than via the ordinary criminal wiretap statute.
If wiretap recordings are made during a standard criminal investigation, they can be disclosed with the consent of one party, said University of San Francisco law professor Susan Freiwald.
But because the warrants reportedly were granted under FISA, a section of law dealing with national security and delegated to a secret court, that avenue is unavailable.
"The evidence obtained pursuant to a FISA-based wiretap is entirely different," said Anne McKenna, who teaches at Penn State's law school.
"Because it involves a matter of national security, the usual constitutional protections that ordinary domestic criminal investigation targets are entitled to by law are not afforded," she said.
McKenna said some unknown details are potentially significant, such as whether the FISA order outlined minimization procedures, particularly concerning the president.
If Trump-Manafort calls do exist, one clear route to disclosure is a trial.
Former federal judge Nancy Gertner, a senior lecturer at Harvard Law School, said "the transcript will not be released unless there is an indictment and a public trial."
Attorney Anthony Zaccagnini, who defended Linda Tripp during the special counsel investigation of President Bill Clinton, agreed.
"If [Trump's] voice was captured in conversations with Mr. Manafort on his presumptively lawful wiretap, then any conversation that was legally obtained could be used by the government in its proceedings against Mr. Manafort, the president or any other possible co-actors," he said.
Though there's no easy road to disclosure, Manafort issued a statement Tuesday indicating he would welcome public release.
A statement released on his behalf said: "Mr. Manafort requests that the Department of Justice release any intercepts involving him and any non-Americans so interested parties can come to the same conclusion as the DOJ – there is nothing there."
CNN reported an initial FISA wiretap warrant covered a period ending last year, and was part of an investigation into Manafort's consulting work in Ukraine. It's unclear if that period involved Manafort's brief stint as Trump campaign manager from June-August 2016. A second FISA warrant was reportedly issued for Manafort as part of the FBI's probe into Russia's role in last year's election.
Experts said there are no special legal considerations if the target of a wiretap is talking with the president. Zaccagnini said he could imagine claims of executive privilege, but that such claims are unlikely to hold water.
Zaccagnini said if calls involving Trump do exist, "I think it will be a long haul before those transcripts come to light."
"I presume that ‘leaks' are always possible," he said. "[But leakers] must be very cautious in leaking any type of information from a FISA court as those records are inherently classified and usually with a top secret clearance. One would be subjecting themselves to a national security investigation."
He added: "Not that this has stopped others from doing so."