A Sunday report from Politico’s Josh Gerstein published two internal FBI documents that suggest Associated Press reporters gave investigators linked to special counsel Robert Mueller’s “Russia” probe information they had uncovered about one-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort at an off-the-record meeting last year.
The April 11, 2017, meeting, according to one of the memos, was arraigned by Mueller’s controversial Clinton-allied deputy, Andrew Weissmann, to “obtain documents from the AP reporters that were related to their investigative reports on Paul Manafort.” Weissman would later be moved from his post as chief of the Justice Department’s Fraud Section to a senior prosecutor’s position within Mueller’s investigation.
As Gerstein recounts, the memos indicate that the four unnamed AP reporters “advised” the FBI of the existence of and provided the FBI with the code to a storage unit Manafort kept in Alexandria, Virginia. Those reporters told the FBI they thought damning evidence about Manafort’s dealings in eastern Europe might be inside. According to Politico, one of the memo’s authors, FBI agent Jeff Pfeiffer, later testified that this tip may have led to the FBI’s discovery of the unit, although he was not certain.
The reporters also told the agents they thought Manafort was guilty of Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) violations, and one memo notes they had documents supporting these allegations. Although one of the memos includes detailed discussion of a so-called “black ledger” containing payments from Manafort’s Ukrainian clients, it does not specifically say they provided such a ledger to the FBI.
Less than seven months later, in October 2017, Manafort would be charged with felonies, including FARA violations.
The memos go further, suggesting the AP reporters were looking for something in return. “No commitments were made to assist the reporters in their further investigation into the life and activities of Paul Manafort,” one reads.
It is clear, however, that Weissman did seek to steer the reporters’ investigation, possibly to further his own investigation of Manafort. For example, he told them to, as Gerstein puts it, “ask Cypriot officials whether they had given the U.S. all the information it sought about Manafort’s bank dealings there or just a portion of it[.]”
Gerstein quotes one journalism expert, University of Maryland Professor Mark Feldstein, as being “surprised” by the “unorthodox” conduct of the reporters in this case, although he offers the defense that the FBI might not be accurately recording the events in question.
AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton flat out denied the collusion allegations. “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,” she told Politico. “During the course of the meeting, they asked DOJ representatives about a storage locker belonging to Paul Manafort, without sharing its name or location.”
Beyond the AP-FBI collusion allegations themselves, Manafort’s legal team raised questions about whether Weissman has breached grand jury secrecy to provide information to the journalists, a potentially serious violation of federal court rules. “The meeting raises serious concerns about whether a violation of grand jury secrecy occurred. Now, based on the FBI’s own notes of the meeting, it is beyond question that a hearing is warranted,” Gerstein said, quoting a Friday court filing in one of the two criminal trials Manafort now faces.
IMAGE CREDITS: DAILY BRIAN/FLICKR.
“We have asked the Committees to schedule another date that would allow sufficient time for her to prepare. The Committees have not honored this request. As a result, Lisa is not going to appear for an interview at this time.”
However, Page did actually review the requested documents in question, according to Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows.
“Contrary to what her attorneys are telling the media, we just learned Lisa Page actually DID review documents at the FBI yesterday. Her failure to appear before Congress this morning had little to do with ‘preparation’–and everything to do with avoiding accountability,” he tweeted on Wednesday.
Contrary to what her attorneys are telling the media, we just learned Lisa Page actually DID review documents at the FBI yesterday. Her failure to appear before Congress this morning had little to do with ‘preparation’–and everything to do with avoiding accountability.
— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) July 11, 2018
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who issued the subpoena, stressed the importance of Page’s role as a “key witness” in both the Clinton email and Russian collusion investigations and how her testimony is “critical” to getting to the truth.
“Lisa Page plans to blatantly defy a congressional subpoena by refusing to appear for her deposition. She is a key witness, and it is critical that she come before @HouseJudiciary to answer questions as part of our investigation. It appears she has something to hide,” he tweeted Tuesday.
Lisa Page plans to blatantly defy a congressional subpoena by refusing to appear for her deposition. She is a key witness, and it is critical that she come before @HouseJudiciary to answer questions as part of our investigation. It appears she has something to hide.
— Bob Goodlatte (@RepGoodlatte) July 11, 2018
Page should be held in contempt of Congress over her refusal to comply with the subpoena, said Judicial Watch founder Tom Fitton.
“Congress has its own authority, frankly, to arrest cabinet officials who are in contempt of Congress,” he said Wednesday.
Lisa Page’s thumbing her nose at House subpoena shows oversight reform is necessary. As Justice Department is conflicted, Congress needs to enforce its own contempt powers, as was done historically, including possibly jailing those in contempt of Congress. @JudicialWatchpic.twitter.com/TvdI7uDdNw
— Tom Fitton (@TomFitton) July 11, 2018
“That’s the way to do it, and if they want to be serious about it, they would use that arrow in their Constitutional quiver against recalcitrant cabinet officials and high level government officials who refuse to turn over records.”
Trump weighed in on Page’s refusal to appear before the Committee on Wednesday.
“Ex-FBI LAYER Lisa Page today defied a House of Representatives issued Subpoena to testify before Congress! Wow, but is anybody really surprised! Together with her lover, FBI Agent Peter Strzok, she worked on the Rigged Witch Hunt, perhaps the most tainted and corrupt case EVER!” he tweeted.
Ex-FBI LAYER Lisa Page today defied a House of Representatives issued Subpoena to testify before Congress! Wow, but is anybody really surprised! Together with her lover, FBI Agent Peter Strzok, she worked on the Rigged Witch Hunt, perhaps the most tainted and corrupt case EVER!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2018
IMAGE CREDITS: SCREENSHOT.
Lisa Page ignores congressional subpoena, once again showing the double standard. One set of rules for regular Americans, a different set for the Swamp!
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) July 11, 2018
LISA PAGE: The former FBI lawyer will *not* comply with a congressional subpoena to appear tomorrow before two House committees, her attorney says. The full statement: pic.twitter.com/pCBhfZEIZC
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) July 11, 2018
Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) issued the following statement after Lisa Page decided to defy the Committee’s subpoena:
“It appears that Lisa Page has something to hide. She plans to blatantly defy a congressional subpoena by refusing to appear for her deposition. She has known for months that the House Judiciary Committee has sought her testimony as part of our joint investigation with the Oversight Committee into decisions made by the Justice Department in 2016, and she has no excuse for her failure to appear. Lisa Page is a key witness, and it is critical that she come before our committees to answer questions as part of our investigation.
“We will use all tools at our disposal to obtain her testimony. Americans across the country are alarmed at the bias exhibited by top officials at the Justice Department and FBI, and it is imperative Congress conduct vigorous oversight to ensure that never happens again.” (link)