WASHINGTON - Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort said he knew he “had no chance at trial” when he pleaded guilty last year in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, according to a summary of his interview with investigators that was made public Thursday.
“When he saw the jury pool questionnaire for the trial (in the District of Columbia), Manafort knew it was over,” an FBI agent wrote in summarizing the interview. “He struck 90 of the 120 potential jurors based on their answers and thought the rest were lying.”
Between the judge and the jury, the agent wrote, Manafort thought “he had no chance at trial.” By that point, Manafort had pleaded guilty in Washington’s federal court and been found guilty by a jury in Virginia of similar financial charges. He is now serving more than seven years in prison.
Press sues, documents released
The write-up of the interview was among hundreds of pages of heavily redacted documents released by the Justice Department in response to public records lawsuits from BuzzFeed News and CNN. It was the third such disclosure of records, all consisting of summaries of interviews that FBI agents and Mueller team members did with key aides and confidants of President Donald Trump.
Separately, Manafort made clear that Trump’s distrust of the FBI and the Justice Department long predates his presidency and the investigation into ties between his presidential campaign and Russia.
Trump and Comey
Manafort said Trump believed then-FBI Director James Comey had behaved in a “totally inappropriate” way by holding a news conference to say the FBI would not be recommending charges in the Hillary Clinton email investigation. He said Trump thought Comey was “operating way outside of his space” and the Justice Department shouldn’t have let it happen.
“Trump said it was a rigged system and signaled the politicization of the Department of Justice,” the agent wrote. “They talked about how to use it in their campaign, saying that the fix was in between (then-Attorney General) Loretta Lynch and the Clintons.”
Manafort said he never expected Trump to keep Comey in the position based on his feelings about his actions during the campaign.
“Manafort and Trump had conversations in which they said Comey was a political partisan,” according to the agent’s write-up. “Trump thought it was a joke when people said Comey was a Republican and never viewed him as a Republican. Trump thought Comey had made his bed with the Obama administration and was part of the other team.”
Comey was fired in May 2017, and the documents released Thursday include statements from multiple witnesses describing both the lead-up to that the decision and the fallout that happened afterward.
Behind the scenes
Trump aide Stephen Miller, for instance, described working with Trump on a draft letter informing Comey that he was fired. A separate memo was ultimately drafted by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and released by the White House.
Former White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told investigators she had no basis for her comment after Comey was fired that countless FBI agents had lost confidence in him.
Uttam Dhillon, a former White House lawyer and the current acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told investigators that White House attorneys had warned Trump not to contact Comey directly while he was in his job because “it could create the perception he was interfering with investigations.”
He also described how former White House counsel Don McGahn tried to persuade the president to remove from a draft of Comey’s termination letter a reference to Comey having told him three times that he was not under investigation. But, Dhillon said, “it seemed to be the most important part of the letter to the President and he insisted on keeping it in.”
Dhillon also told investigators that Trump told him and McGahn that his communications team “could not get the story right” so he was going to do an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt “to say what really happened.” During that interview, Trump said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided to fire Comey.
Also included in Thursday’s disclosure was a write-up of an FBI interview with Jerome Corsi, a conservative who was himself scrutinized during Mueller’s investigation and told reporters he had turned down a plea offer.
Corsi suggested to investigators that he had advance knowledge of an infamous “Access Hollywood” recording from 2005 in which Trump can be heard making lewd and profane comments about women. The recording was disclosed by The Washington Post in October 2016.
“He remembered the line about Trump ‘grabbing by the genitals’ and being shocked by it. When it came out publicly later that day, Corsi was not shocked by it because he expected it,” the documents say.
Corsi told Mueller’s team he believed he mentioned the tape on a World Net Daily conference call Oct. 7, 2016, saying the tape was coming, and sent out a tweet about whether anyone could get to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. But Corsi also said he may have done nothing.