Andrew Weissmann met with AP reporters to discuss Paul Manafort case before joining special counsel
UPDATED WITH AP RESPONSE
A senior Justice Department prosecutor in Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel office held a meeting with Associated Press journalists last spring to discuss an investigation into Paul Manafort’s financial record, a day before the wire service published a major expose disclosing alleged money laundering made by the former and now embattled Trump campaign chairman.
Federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, now a senior attorney in the special counsel’s office, met with AP journalists on April 11 after reporters informed him of their own investigation into Manafort’s dealings with Ukrainian officials. The reporters had reached out to Weissman on a different story earlier in the year and it was during that conversation, that the AP team told Weissmann of their investigation into Manafort, stated the sources. The AP published the explosive expose on April 12, a day after their meeting with Weissmann.
According to sources familiar with the meeting, the reporters had promised to share documents and other information gleaned from the own investigation with the Justice Department.
AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton said Thursday, “we refrain from discussing our sources.”
“Associated Press journalists meet with a range of people in the course of reporting stories, and we refrain from discussing relationships with sources. However, the suggestion that AP would voluntarily serve as the source of information for a government agency is categorically untrue,” added Easton.
At the time of the meeting, Weissmann was head of the Justice Department’s fraud division. He was the most senior member of the Justice Department to join the special counsel in May.
Sources said Weissmann, had notified his superiors about the arranged meeting with the AP and at the time of the meeting he was not assigned to the Manafort probe and had no knowledge of the state of the investigation. Weissmann didn’t have access to grand jury materials, didn’t have access to reports and his role was solely to facilitate the meeting because the AP reached out to him, the officials added.
The officials noted that no commitment was made to assist the reporters with their investigation into Manafort’s life or activity.
The AP meeting arranged by Weissmann came to light in a letter sent to Justice Department Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-CA, late last year, requesting specific FBI and DOJ documentation related to the controversial Fusion GPS dossier that alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Rosenstein not only agreed to provide all the documents requested, which include unredacted FBI interviews with witnesses, as well as access to eight key FBI and DOJ witnesses but said they would provide the committee with information on Weissmann, as reported last week.
The committee letter noted that the Justice Department is “researching records related to the details of an April 2017 meeting between DOJ Attorney Andrew Weissmann (now the senior attorney for Special Counsel Robert Mueller) and the media, which will also be provided to this Committee by close of business on Thursday, January 11, 2018.”
That meeting with the AP was attended by three different litigating offices. Two employees from the U.S. Justice Department and the other representative was from the U.S. Attorney’s office, according to the sources. FBI agents also attended the meeting, law enforcement sources confirmed.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment. Chief Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores also declined to comment.
However, the Justice Department and FBI have specific guidelines that must be followed when obtaining documents or information from the media, according to the DOJ website.
“Members of the Department may not employ the use of the investigative tool at issue until the Criminal Division has responded in writing,” the guideline states. “Accordingly, to ensure appropriate consideration, members of the Department should submit requests for authorization or consultation pursuant to this policy at least 30 days before the anticipated use of the covered law enforcement tool.”
Carr declined to comment on whether the AP shared documentation or information with Weissmann. He also declined to comment on whether Weissmann followed appropriate DOJ procedures for the meeting to obtain documentation.
And Weissmann’s role in arranging the meeting did not go over well with FBI officials, who issued a complaint to the Justice Department suggesting Weissmann didn’t follow normal procedures for dealing with journalists. The FBI was concerned the meeting with the journalists could harm the ongoing probe into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election, according to sources with knowledge of the information.
The news organization published the Manafort story a day after the meeting on April 12. The story revealed that roughly $1.2 million in payments listed for Manafort in a handwritten ledger in Ukraine had been deposited into his U.S. bank accounts.
After the AP published a series of investigative stories, Manafort was forced to file a numerous late lobbying reports. Those reports showed he was paid millions by pro-Russian interests in Ukraine. Manafort has pleaded innocent to the felony charges and last week filed a lawsuit trying to remove Mueller as the special prosecutor in the case.
During the contentious 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton was fuming that then-FBI Director James Comey had closed and then re-opened the investigation into her emails.
So what’s a Clinton to do when the FBI won’t get off her tail and is threatening to derail her coveted White House bid?
- Hire an ex-spy to report unverified accusations and salacious personal dirt on her Republican opponent, Donald Trump.
- Have that ex-spy pass the scandalous dossier off to the FBI, which is suspected of using it to obtain a warrant to spy on Trump’s campaign. (The FBI launched a probe of Trump a month after it received the dossier.)
- Then, just as Comey re-opens the Clinton email probe in late October, the Clinton-funded ex-spy calls the FBI about its investigation of Clinton, and he claims the probe is politically motivated.
That’s essentially how it all happened, according to a flurry of news reports, sources and testimony released this week.
As WND has reported, former British spy Christopher Steele compiled the anti-Trump dossier, which he said was given to the FBI “near the start of July.” But Steele didn’t compile the dossier on his own. He had been hired by the Washington-based intelligence firm Fusion GPS, which funded Steele’s research with cash from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The Clinton- and DNC-funded dossier contained some curious allegations from Russian government sources and was published on the anti-Trump website Buzzfeed, which admitted, “The allegations are unverified, and the report contains errors.” The 35-page document included lewd allegations concerning Trump’s personal life and claims regarding his purported financial ties to Russia.
Did Clinton-funded dossier trigger FBI’s spying warrant?
It’s been long suspected that the FBI used the Clinton-funded dossier to obtain a warrant to spy on Trump’s team during his campaign.
As WND reported, at a December Intelligence Committee hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, charged that Clinton’s campaign used its law firm, Perkins Coie, to hire Fusion GPS and Steele to draft the dossier “full of all kinds of fake news, National Enquirer garbage,” and the document was reportedly “all dressed up by the FBI, taken to [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA] Court, and presented as a legitimate intelligence document.”
Jordan told FBI Director Christopher Wray: “I’m wondering if that actually took place. It sure looks like it did.”
Now investigative reporter Sara Carter says multiple sources have confirmed the federal agency did, in fact, use that dossier as evidence to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on Trump campaign officials. Carter’s report cites multiple sources, including “a senior law enforcement source with knowledge of the process” who told her, “It’s outrageous and clearly should be thoroughly investigated.”
Another source, a “senior U.S. official with knowledge of the dossier,” added: “Congress needs to look at the FBI officials who were handling this case and see what, if anything, was verified in the dossier. I think an important question is whether the FBI paid anything to the source for the dossier.”
Fox News’ Sean Hannity said Wednesday said three separate sources have told him the FBI used the dossier to obtain the warrant. One high-level source reportedly told Hannity the Clinton-funded dossier played a “significant role” in obtaining the spying warrant.
“It’s all propaganda,” Hannity said of the dossier. “It’s all Hillary Clinton bought-and-paid-for Russia lies. Salacious lies. Unproven things. … One person said it definitely played a part. Another said a significant part in terms of getting the FISA warrant. But it was, according to all three sources, used to obtain the warrant.
On Twitter, President Trump himself said twice Thursday that he believes the dossier was used to obtain the FISA warrant.
He tweeted: “Disproven and paid for by Democrats ‘Dossier used to spy on Trump Campaign. Did FBI use Intel tool to influence the Election?’ @foxandfriends Did Dems or Clinton also pay Russians? Where are hidden and smashed DNC servers? Where are Crooked Hillary Emails? What a mess!”
Trump followed that early morning tweet with another: “‘House votes on controversial FISA ACT today.’ This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?”
Members of the House Intelligence Committee recently obtained access to FBI and DOJ documents related to the application for a FISA warrant. The Washington Examiner reported that “representatives of four committees — the House Intelligence Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee, House Judiciary Committee, and Senate Judiciary Committee — have had the opportunity to examine FISA documents in a secure room at the Justice Department.”
Members of Congress have not publicly revealed their findings yet.
WND asked Mueller’s office if the FBI or Mueller’s team ever used Steele’s dossier on Trump to shore up any part of the investigations. The office declined comment.
Clinton-backed firm complains to FBI about Clinton email probe
After the anti-Trump dossier was provided to the FBI, Fusion GPS had a phone call with the federal agency about the ongoing investigation of Clinton’s emails, it was revealed Thursday.
On Aug, 22, Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson spoke with Senate Judiciary Committee Investigators for 10 hours. Simpson had requested that his 312-page testimony be released. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., made Simpson’s transcript public Tuesday.
In that testimony (Page 178), Simpson admitted that Steele discussed the Clinton probe with the FBI because he believed the agency was improperly intervening in her campaign.
Simpson made the statement in response to a question from Heather Sawyer, chief oversight counsel for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Sawyer asked Simpson, “Just to finish up the interactions with the FBI, do you know were there any additional interactions between Mr. Steel and the FBI?”
There was some sort of interaction, I think it was probably telephonic, that occurred after Director Comey sent his letter to Congress reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. That episode, you know, obviously created some concern that the FBI was intervening in a political campaign in contravention of long-standing Justice Department regulation.
So it made a lot of people, including us, concerned about what the heck was going on at the FBI. So, you know, we began getting questions from the press about, you know, whether they were also investigating Trump and, you know, we encouraged them to ask the FBI that question. … [W]e just encouraged them to ask the FBI that question.
Shortly after Simpson made that statement, he said Steele “severed his relationship with the FBI out of concern that he didn’t know what was happening inside the FBI and there was a concern that the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people at that we really didn’t understand what was going on.”
“At some point probably early in 2016 I had reached a conclusion about Donald Trump as a businessman and his character and I was opposed to Donald Trump,” Simpson said. “I’m not going to pretend that that wouldn’t have entered into my thinking. … I reached an opinion about Donald Trump and his suitability to be president of the United States and I was concerned about whether he was the best person for the job.”