Paul Manafort said he used Fox News host Sean Hannity to receive backchannel messages from President Donald Trump while prosecutors investigated him for financial crimes, according to newly released memos from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Among the several hundred pages of memos published by BuzzFeed News on Thursday, which contain summaries of FBI interviews with key Trump administration and campaign officials, the Fox News anchor’s alleged role as an unofficial messenger between the president and his former campaign chairman comes into sharp focus.
According to the release, Manafort did not speak to Trump or anyone closely associated with the president or his legal team besides Hannity around the time that The New York Times and other outlets reported on a 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner and a lawyer linked to the Kremlin. Manafort described Hannity as a close friend and “certainly a backchannel” to Trump, saying that he understood Hannity was in communication with the president.
“Manafort knew Hannity was speaking to Trump because Hannity would tell Manafort to hang in there, that he had been talking to Trump, that Trump had his back, and things like that,” the memos said. “Manafort understood his conversations with Hannity to be a message from Trump.”
The memos did note that while Manafort understood he could attempt to send messages back to Trump through other close Trump confidantes, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and businessman Tom Barrack, he “never did so.”
Manafort’s relationship with Hannity was among the many bizarre side-stories of Mueller’s investigation.
Last year, a federal judge released dozens of pages of private text messages between Manafort and the Fox News anchor, who hosts a long-running primetime show on the network. In the messages, the two repeatedly expressed mutual respect and solidarity; Hannity expressed sympathy for Manafort during the Mueller investigation, while the former Trump campaign chair praised the Fox News host’s on-air monologues and segments.
In one instance, Hannity insisted to Manafort that the host was “NOT a fair weather friend,” and declared that they were “all on the same team.” Manafort returned the favor, telling Hannity that “in a fair world, you would get a Pulitzer prize for your incredible reporting.”
At the time, Hannity dismissed criticism of his close relationship with Manafort, saying on Twitter that his opinions of the Russia investigation and Manafort’s legal situation “were made clear every day to anyone who listens to my radio show or watches my TV show.”
Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter Thursday.
In October 2017, the Justice Department charged Manafort with a host of financial crimes linked to his work for Russia-friendly political interests in Ukraine. A Virginia jury convicted him on eight counts, and he pleaded guilty to separate charges in Washington, D.C. He is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence.