CNN has received another 176 pages of notes from major witness interviews during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation – this time spanning the interviews with more obscure but well-connected witnesses, as well as with some of Mueller’s main targets, including George Papadopoulos, Carter Page and Paul Manafort.
This is the fourth time CNN has gotten documents like these from the Justice Department regarding the Mueller investigation, as part of a lawsuit in conjunction with BuzzFeed News.
The previous releases fleshed out details that Mueller summarized in his final report regarding President Donald Trump’s and his campaign’s actions. The memos so far have revealed, for instance, how top Trump campaign officials witnessed the candidate and other Trump campaign officials pushing for the release of stolen Democratic emails and supported a conspiracy theory that Ukraine had hacked the Democrats in 2016.
The memos, called 302s by the FBI, were typed up by agents or prosecutors after they questioned each witness. Friday’s release landed with large chunks of the witness memos redacted and with several pages withheld from the public. The Justice Department has kept many of the memos heavily redacted as it continues to release them this year.
Kushner interview notes missing
Despite a court order, the Justice Department is holding back Mueller memos regarding the interviews conducted with the President’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
CNN and BuzzFeed have won access to thousands of pages of Mueller’s witness memos. A judge ordered that the news organizations get access to the same group of documents the House saw, including the Kushner memos, this month.
The Justice Department would be able to redact and withhold some of those documents under Freedom of Information Act guidelines, so what the public sees wouldn’t necessarily match what the House read.
But still, on January 2 and on Friday night, the Justice Department was to have handed over as much of the documents the House had read as it could under the public records access law.
Kushner wasn’t in either January batch.
It’s still not clear why. CNN and BuzzFeed continue to fight for access to more documents from the Mueller investigation in court.
FBI memo details oligarch’s chats with Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin is mentioned in the latest batch of memos, thanks to an FBI interview with Russian oligarch Petr Aven, perhaps the most influential Russian to have helped the Mueller investigation.
Aven is one of the founders of Alfa Bank, the largest private bank in Russia, and maintains a close relationship with Putin. The FBI memo describes Aven’s interactions with “Official 1.” The Mueller report says, “Official 1 was Putin.”
The Mueller report says Aven attended “quarterly meetings” with Putin and other powerful oligarchs.
The FBI memo describes a December 2016 meeting between Aven and Putin, where they discussed US sanctions and potentially engaging with members of the Trump transition team to improve relations and end the sanctions. Putin was “skeptical Aven could succeed” with the outreach, Aven told Mueller’s team, according to the memos.
Aven said Putin didn’t mention Russian interference in the US election during their meeting. US intelligence agencies have said Putin personally ordered the Russian government’s election-meddling campaign in 2016.
Following up in early 2017, Putin asked Aven if he had been successful “in his struggle against sanctions,” and Aven said he hadn’t communicated with anyone affiliated with the Trump transition, according to the memo.
It’s not clear why the FBI masked Putin’s name in the memo and referred to him as “Official 1.”
In another memo released Friday, an American banker describes two Russian bankers traveling to the US on a trip sanctioned or authorized by Putin. The banker, Bob Foresman, told Mueller’s team the Russian bankers planned to brief Putin on their return.
The FBI interviewed Aven in August 2018. The Mueller report said Aven had provided information “through an attorney proffer,” meaning that his lawyers had reached some sort of agreement with Mueller’s investigators.
Russia ‘important’ to Trump campaign in 2016
Former Trump campaign aide Papadopoulos told investigators that during a phone interview with former Trump campaign national co-chairman Sam Clovis in March 2016 for a job on the campaign, Clovis mentioned that Russia would be “important” to the campaign.
“Papadopoulos recalled the topic of Russia came up during his phone call with Clovis, in the context that Clovis had mentioned that Russia would be a very important aspect of the Trump campaign,” investigators wrote in 2017. The sentences directly before and after that note are redacted.
Papadopoulos, when he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in 2017 about his interactions with foreign officials close to the Russian government, said a principal foreign-policy focus of the Trump campaign was to improve the US-Russia relationship, according to court records.
Manafort and Hannity, again
A special counsel’s office interview with Manafort in October 2018 highlighted how Manafort was following the President’s moods after he was indicted.
The Mueller team had asked the former 2016 Trump campaign chairman – who by that time had been found guilty by a jury, had pleaded guilty to additional crimes and was in prison – about text messages between Manafort and Fox News host Sean Hannity.
In one text message in May 2018, Manafort wrote to Hannity, “I am told DT is pumped,” referring to the President’s reaction to a judge criticizing the Mueller team.
“Manafort’s legal counsel told him that DT was pumped,” the memo released Friday said.
“Hannity also served as an outlet to the public and the White House,” Mueller’s team noted in the report from the October 2018 interview.
The Hannity-Manafort texts were previously made public in his court record, but how Mueller’s team considered them during the investigation and what Manafort said in his private interviews was unknown. Hannity had become a repeat character in the Mueller witness interviews. A previously released Manafort interview memo cited how Manafort used Hannity as a “back channel” to the President.
Feds help former Trump aide get home, give him granola bar
After Papadopoulos was arrested by US marshals, charged and released from custody at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, he was assisted by FBI agents.
Papadopoulos borrowed an agent’s phone and stepped away to call his attorney. Then the agents returned some of Papadopoulos’ belongings, which had been seized the previous day. The FBI kept his cell phone and two passports.
The previous day, during booking and processing, Papadopoulos “relayed to the Agents that he had lost his wallet and his driver’s license a while ago and never obtained a new form of State identification,” the notes state.
The notes give the fullest detail yet of the blow-by-blow when agents confronted Papadopoulos. Though he was a foreign policy adviser to Trump in 2016, Papadopoulos was one of the least-known names when Mueller charged him in 2017.
The agents offered to assist Papadopoulos with his return to Chicago, since he had no official form of identification.
The agents also told him he was free to make his own travel arrangements since he was no longer in custody.
Papadopoulos opted for the free ride to the airport. Agents drove him from the courthouse to Ronald Reagan national airport outside Washington. Once they arrived, one of the agents used their FBI-issued Samsung device to purchase a United Airlines ticket for Papadopoulos to return to Chicago.
The agents allowed Papadopoulos to temporarily access his passport to enter airport security. Then they met him in the terminal’s secure area to recover said passport.
“Agents then provided PAPADOPOULOS with his attorney’s telephone number and a granola bar for his travel back to Chicago,” the notes state.
Papadopoulos also departed with a business card from one of the agents in case he was questioned by airport security or other authorities about his lack of any form of identification.
Carter Page made PowerPoint presentations and thumb drives for FBI
Page, who was investigated by Mueller and the FBI for potential collusion with Russians, appears to have had some of the more unusual interviews with investigators on the high-stakes Russia investigation.
He met on multiple occasions with FBI agents apparently without a lawyer present, according to notes taken by the agents.
He even – apparently unprompted – prepared them PowerPoint slide presentations and documents on thumb drives. The notes say that on one occasion “he spent the previous night” preparing the slides.
It’s highly unusual for a witness to speak to investigators so extensively without a lawyer present.
Page was one of four people the FBI opened investigations of in 2016, and someone who Mueller was authorized to investigate for colluding with Russia. Page wasn’t charged with any crime.
The presentations he gave to the FBI contained a lengthy disclaimer that the information may be inaccurate and “subject to change without notice.” He offered agents a verbal disclaimer, too, describing his conversations with them as a “full strip-search.”
“Page specified that in his public appearances, he only makes statements which he knows to be factual. However, with the interviewing agents, he provides everything,” the investigators noted in the memo of his March 2017 interview.
FBI agents told Page that Russians may have been grooming him as a spy
On at least two occasions, FBI agents discussed with Page whether he was being groomed as a source for Russian intelligence agents.
“PAGE referenced himself being ‘on the books’ of Russian Intelligence Services,” an FBI agent wrote in notes from one of their meetings. Page even interrupted an agent describing how that relationship works to say “he is probably the highest level contact” for the Russians.
At a later meeting, an agent describes to Page how he may have been cultivated by Russian intelligence as a source for years, and that when he joined the Trump campaign, Russian contacts may have attempted to rekindle the relationship. Page appeared to downplay that possibility, saying he had no recent contacts and no current business dealings involving Russia.
Page suspected Manafort was behind GOP platform change
Mueller also investigated a controversial change to the Republican Party platform during the 2016 convention. The report said Trump campaign officials had blocked a provision calling for the US to provide lethal weapons to the Ukrainian military for its war against Russian-backed proxies.
The Mueller report said the investigation had been unable to establish that the change was made “at the behest of candidate Trump or Russia,” appearing to rule out any collusion on the platform.
The section of the report about the platform change doesn’t say whether Manafort was involved. According to the new FBI memos obtained by CNN, Page said he wasn’t involved in changing the Ukraine language but “suspected Manafort may be behind it.”
During the convention, suspicion fell on Manafort because of his long career as a consultant for corrupt Kremlin-friendly politicians in Ukraine. The Trump campaign aides also removed language that called for the US to financially support Ukraine’s nascent anti-corruption bureau.
In a July 2016 interview with NBC News, Manafort falsely said the Trump campaign had no role in changing the GOP platform. He also said he learned about it only after the convention had ended.
After Trump became President, he approved plans to give lethal anti-tank weapons to Ukraine.
This story has been updated with details of the documents.