The OK came at what appears to be an unusual summit between four AP reporters, the FBI and Andrew Weissmann at Justice Department offices. Mr. Weissmann is a senior lawyer for Special Counsel Robert Mueller and is prosecuting the jailed Mr. Manafort in Virginia and D.C.
Mr. Weissmann set up the meeting on April 11, 2017, while heading the Justice Department’s fraud division, according to two internal FBI emails. He joined Mr. Mueller’s staff the next month and brought indictments against Mr. Manafort, starting in October 2017.
The indictments are nearly a carbon copy of what AP reporters told Mr. Weissmann and the FBI they had found on Mr. Manafort: Money laundering payments made by Ukrainian politicians; tax evasion on those funds and failure to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).
The public now knows about the AP-FBI alliance because Kevin Downing, Mr. Manafort’s attorney, has waged an aggressive campaign to force Mr. Mueller to disclose evidence. In this case, Mr. Downing accuses the government of leaking grand jury proceedings and false information about his client, feeding news stories that malign Mr. Manafort in the eyes of potential jurors.
Mr. Mueller began turning over documents, two of which are FBI memos from agents recounting their AP pow-wow. Mr. Downing then filed the memos in open court to bolster his request to U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis to hold a hearing, with witnesses, on whether the Mueller team or FBI violated grand jury secrecy rules.
Mr. Manafort’s trial in Alexandria is scheduled to begin July 25.
After the April AP meeting, Agent Karen A. Greenaway wrote a memo on May 11 summarizing the session. She wrote:
“At the conclusion of the meeting, the AP reporters asked if we would be willing to tell them if they were off base or on the wrong track and they were advised that they appeared to have a good understanding of Manafort’s business dealings.”
One nugget was the existence of a storage locker––and its secret gate code–– in Virginia where the political consultant kept large amounts of financial documents. The reporters said the rental payments were made by Mr. Manafort’s DM Partners which received money from the pro-Russia Party of Regions in Ukraine.
Based on AP’s tip, the FBI executed a search warrant on the locker.
Much of the AP information dealt with Mr. Manafort’s various companies and his business deals with a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska. They said Mr. Manafort often “overpromised” what he could deliver, angering the Russian.
A second agent who attended, Jeffrey Pfeiffer, filed his report on May 5.
“AP reporters were advised everything discussed during the meeting is considered ‘off the record,’” he wrote.
“AP determined Manafort has received between $60 million to $80 million through shell companies on which he has likely not paid taxes,” the agent said. “AP has information Manafort used some of the money from shell companies to buy expensive suits.”
Mr. Pfeiffer said that each time the AP tried to confirm that Mr. Manafort was under investigation, the agents replied, no comment.
Ms. Greenaway said the meeting was called to obtained documents from the AP. But the FBI explained that it could provide no information to the reporters, who then proceeded to ask questions.
“The meeting raises serious concerns about whether a violation of grand jury secrecy occurred,” Mr. Downing said in his brief.
- He added, “When the AP reporters asked if DOJ would tell them if they were off base or on the wrong track, government attendees confirmed that the AP reporters appeared to have a good understanding of Manafort’s business dealings in Ukraine.”
- The day after the April 11 meeting, the AP sent out a story with the headline, “AP Exclusive: Manafort firm received Ukraine ledger payout.”
Lauren Easton, an AP spokeswoman, told The Washington Times, “Associated Press journalists met with representatives from the Department of Justice in an effort to get information on stories they were reporting as reporters do.”
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