Concerns are being raised that a 2017 meeting of Department of Justice officials and Associated Press reporters could have violated “grand jury secrecy” in the case of Paul Manafort.
Manafort, who served as President Donald Trump’s campaign manager for a few weeks in 2016, is facing bank and tax fraud charges.
Manafort’s defense team is focusing on an April 2017 meeting involving FBI and Justice Department officials and four AP reporters, Fox News has reported.
“The meeting raises serious concerns about whether a violation of grand jury secrecy occurred,” Manafort’s lawyers wrote in a filing to U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis, according to Newsmax. “Now, based on the FBI’s own notes of the meeting, it is beyond question that a hearing is warranted.”
Manafort’s lawyers have said that constant leaks to the media are making a fair trial impossible.
“Mr. Manafort’s legal issues and the attendant daily media coverage have become a theatre in the continuing controversy surrounding President Trump and his election,” Manafort’s lawyers also wrote.
The filing includes the notes of the meeting written by FBI agents who attended.
“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,” FBI agent Karen A. Greenaway wrote. The next day, the AP published a story about allegations that Manafort received money from Ukraine.
Greenway wrote that the “purpose of the meeting, as it was explained to SSA Greenaway, was to obtain documents from the AP reporters that were related to their investigative reports on Paul Manafort.”
The FBI memo said that reporters told federal investigators “they had located a storage facility in Virginia that belonged to Manafort.” Although two different FBI memos report things differently, both agree the reporters offered the FBI the code to gain access to where Manafort stored documents.
The FBI later searched the storage locker and removed documents.
The AP issued a comment into a past inquiry on the meeting that said the reporters were just doing their jobs.
“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,” an AP spokesperson explained. “During the course of the meeting, they asked DOJ representatives about a storage locker belonging to Paul Manafort, without sharing its name or location.”
One commentator said the FBI documents may need a skeptical read, Politico reported.
“I’m surprised by the access code notation, that does seem rather unorthodox if the FBI memo is accurate in stating or implying that the AP reporters volunteered that information,” University of Maryland journalism professor Mark Feldstein told Politico.
“Generally speaking, skepticism is warranted when it comes to self-reporting by both the FBI and news outlets about their interactions. Neither side is supposed to share confidential information with the other, but in fact each often does — perhaps to seek corroboration, perhaps to get other confidential information back in exchange or perhaps to spur on the other side’s investigation,” he said.
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