Poor old Paul Manafort. He’s the forgotten man, quietly serving out his sentence, collateral damage in the ongoing effort to take down Trump.
Now that more records from the FBI have been uncovered --- after being protected by a slow-walking bureaucracy for months and even years --- we’ve got a new term to describe what the intel community specializes in: “strategic leaking.” What good is an attempt to influence an election or unseat a President without help from the media? And we’re learning that the relationship was and is a two-way street.
Recall that early in Trump’s presidency, the administration was leaking like crazy. We’d never seen anything like it. How was this happening? Judicial Watch, now getting big-time payoff after suing under the Freedom of Information Act over many thousands of documents that were being withheld, just keeps digging up more and more that explains it in hindsight.
For example, last week, the FBI released documents relating to a meeting on April 11, 2017, that was set up by then-Chief of the Justice Department’s Criminal Fraud Section Andrew Weissmann (this was a few weeks before he started his work leading Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation and prosecuting Paul Manafort) between the DOJ, FBI and the Associated Press. Apparently, the AP had a two-way relationship with top intel people: you give us information, and we’ll give YOU information. We know this because the AP provided information to Weissmann and his group about former Trump campaign director Manafort –- including the numeric code to Manafort’s storage locker.
In reports on this story, I haven’t seen an answer to the question that immediately comes to mind: How did the Associated Press HAVE the code to the lock on Manafort’s storage locker in Virginia?
They did reveal how they tied the locker to Manafort’s Ukraine work: “payments for the locker were made from the DM Partners account that received money from the [Ukraine] Party of Regions.”
According to handwritten notes finally provided to Judicial Watch, the purpose of the meeting was to obtain documents from the AP “related to their investigative reports on Paul Manafort.” Yet no such documents were included in the pages given to JW.
Obviously, the AP was interested in more than reporting the news. They wanted to SHAPE the news, and were pushing for criminal prosecution of Manafort. According to the FBI notes, “AP believes Manafort is in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), in that Manafort sent internal U.S. documents to officials Ukraine. AP has documentation proving this, as well as Manafort noting his understanding doing so would get him into trouble.”
They go on: “AP asked about the U.S. government charging Manafort with violating Title 18, section 1001 for lying to government officials, and have asked if the FBI has interviewed Manafort. FBI and DOJ had no comment on this question.”
Generally, FARA is loosely enforced; many who could have been prosecuted for failing to register have not been. Still, according to FBI notes of the meeting, “The AP reporters asked about FARA violations and they were generally told it was enforceable.” Hey, great news for the AP. They published their big expose on Manafort the very next day.
According to the notes, FBI officials said they couldn’t provide anything to the AP, so the reporters opted to ask them a series of questions. The FBI told them the meeting would be “off the record.” There were some things the FBI couldn’t talk about, but they guided the AP to foreign sources. (Details in the press release; link below.) They also advised the AP that “they appeared to have a good understanding of Manafort’s business dealings.”
AP reporters told the FBI about payments in Manafort’s “black ledger.” The FBI’s notes read, “The reporters advised that their next report, which was scheduled to come out in the next day or so after the meeting, would focus on confirming, to the extent that they could, payments in the so-called ‘black ledger’ that were allegedly made to Manafort.”
As Judicial Watch reports, “The AP reporters discussed an extensive list of issues, companies and individuals that they felt should be investigated for possible criminal activity, including a $50,000 payment to a men’s clothing store, a 2007 meeting with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, and some companies they felt Manafort might have incorporated to cover up money laundering.
My, my. It sounds as though the Associated Press was “colluding” with our FBI and DOJ to “get” Manafort. The underlying message would have been, “We really hope you go after this guy.”
Chuck Ross of the DAILY CALLER reported on the meeting back in January and July of 2018; Manafort’s lawyers had obtained the documents and revealed them in a brief filed in the Virginia federal court where Manafort was on trial. Sara Carter also reported on this. The story didn’t get the attention it deserved at the time, but now we can look back at what the AP was doing and think, “What the huh??” A lawyer for Manafort, Kevin Downing, had written to the court, “This meeting raises serious concerns about whether a violation of grand jury secrecy occurred. Based on the FBI’s own notes of the meeting, it is beyond question that a hearing is warranted.” Indeed, we learn from this story that the meeting took place while there was an ongoing grand jury investigation of Manafort going on. According to Ross, “Manafort’s attorneys have for months questioned whether Weissmann, the number two official on the Mueller team, leaked information about Manafort to the AP.” We see now that this was a two-way street.
The AP’s director for media relations, Lauren Eastman, defended the journalists’ meeting with government officials. When it first came to light in January 2018, she said this: “Associated Press journalists meet with a range of people in the course of reporting stories, and we refrain from discussing our relationships with sources. However, the suggestion that AP would voluntarily serve as the source of information for a government agency is categorically untrue.” But now we know from the FBI's own notes that this is just what they did.
Here’s the Judicial Watch press release, which confirms what was reported last year.
With the continued investigations into Ukraine’s corruption and involvement in our 2016 election, we may end up with a better picture of how the prosecution of Manafort fits in. If he broke laws other people go to prison for, then justice needs to be evenly applied. On the other hand, if he was targeted, selectively prosecuted, sent to Rikers Island and then to prison because he dared to be Trump’s campaign director, that’s the kind of “banana republic” stuff that Andrew Weissmann apparently specializes in, with help from the media. As Tom Fitton of JW tweeted last week: “These shocking FBI reports evidence a corrupt collusion between DOJ and media, specifically the Associated Press, to target Paul Manafort – are further reason for President @ReallDonaldTrump to pardon Manafort and others caught up in Mueller’s abusive web.”
Manafort is scheduled to be released from prison on Christmas 2024.