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, 2017 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.