Chuck Ross, DCNF
Justice Department documents released on Friday confirm that the DOJ attorney known as Robert Mueller’s “pit bull” arranged a meeting with journalists in April 2017 to discuss an investigation into Paul Manafort.
The documents show that Andrew Weissmann arranged a meeting with DOJ and FBI officials and four Associated Press reporters on April 11, 2017, just over a month before Mueller was appointed special counsel.
Manafort’s lawyers obtained the documents on June 29 and revealed them in a briefing filed in federal court in Virginia. The attorneys are pushing for a hearing into what they say are possible leaks of secret grand jury information, false information and potentially classified materials from the meeting.
“The meeting raises serious concerns about whether a violation of grand jury secrecy occurred,” a lawyer for Manafort, Kevin Downing, wrote in a motion requesting a hearing. “Based on the FBI’s own notes of the meeting, it is beyond question that a hearing is warranted.”
Manafort’s attorneys have for months questioned whether Weissmann, the number two official on the Mueller team, leaked information about Manafort to The AP. At the time of the meeting, Weissmann served as chief of the Justice Department’s criminal fraud section.
He previously served as general counsel to Mueller when he was FBI director. Weissmann joined the special counsel’s investigation when it was formed on May 17, 2017.
The existence of meeting between AP reporters and DOJ officials was first reported in January. The government confirmed it for the first time in a pre-trial hearing held on June 29.
In the hearing, FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Pfeiffer said that the FBI may have conducted a May 2017 raid of a storage locker that Manafort was renting based on a tip from AP reporters. He also said that the purpose of the meeting was for the DOJ and FBI to obtain information from The AP.
Manafort is set to go to trial on July 25 for a slew of money laundering and bank fraud charges related to his consulting work for a Ukrainian politician years before joining the Trump campaign.
Friday’s court filing includes two reports about the April 11, 2017 meeting: one written by Pfeiffer and another written by Supervisory Special Agent Karen Greenaway.
“The meeting was arranged by Andrew Weissmann,” Greenaway wrote in her report, for the first time establishing that Weissmann took part in the meeting.
Greenaway also said that Weissmann provided guidance to the reporters for their investigation. According to Greenaway, Weissmann suggested that the reporters ask the Cypriot Anti-Money Laundering Authority, a Cypriot government agency, if it had provided the Department of Treasury with all of the documents they were legally authorized to provide regarding Manafort.
The AP journalists, Chad Day, Ted Bridis, Jack Gillum and Eric Tucker, were conducting an extensive investigation of Manafort, including payments he received through various shell companies set up in Cyprus.
Day and Gillum published an article a day after the meeting laying out some of the allegations against Manafort, including that he was listed in a “black ledger” that documented illicit payments from a Ukrainian political party allied with the Russian government.
During the meeting, the AP reporters told the DOJ and FBI officials that they had learned about Manafort’s storage locker. Greenaway’s report says that the journalists provided government officials with a code for the storage facility but did not provide a name of the company or an address.
Lauren Easton, the director of media relations for The AP, defended the journalists’ briefing with government officials.
“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. During the course of the meeting, they asked DOJ representatives about a storage locker belonging to Paul Manafort, without sharing its name or location,” Easton said in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
DOJ officials provided other guidance to the reporters, according to Greenaway’s report. She noted that when the journalists asked DOJ officials to tell them if they were off base in their findings about Manafort, “government attendees confirmed that the AP reporters appeared to have a good understanding of Manafort’s business dealings in Ukraine.”
Downing said that the special counsel’s office has previously confirmed that at the time of the meeting with the AP reporters, “there was an ongoing grand jury investigation of Mr. Manafort in the Eastern District of Virginia.”
In addition to Weissmann, Pfeiffer and Greenaway, Justice Department officials George Mceachern, Ann Brickley and Ariel Shreve attended the meeting.
Weissmann, who is the top prosecutor handling the Manafort case, has been one of the most controversial members of the Mueller team. He has donated $6,600 to the Democratic National Committee and to the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
He also reportedly attended an election night party held for Clinton in New York City.
A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment on Weissmann’s role in setting up the meeting and whether it poses a problem for the case against Manafort.
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