The report from former special counsel Robert Mueller, detailing Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and the Trump administration’s efforts to obstruct the inquiry, was the most hotly anticipated prosecutorial document in a generation. But at 448 pages, it reflected only a tiny fraction of the primary-source documents that the government amassed over the course of its two-year investigation.
[Here's the second installment of documents. And we want your help! If you see something in these memos, email reporter Jason Leopold at email@example.com or reach us securely at tips.buzzfeed.com.]
Using the Freedom of Information Act, BuzzFeed News, and later CNN, sued to gain access to those documents, which are key to understanding this important chapter in American history.
On Monday, in response to a court order, the Justice Department released the second installment: summaries of FBI interviews spanning hundreds of pages. These summaries, known as “302 reports,” are some of the most important and highly sought-after documents from Mueller’s investigation. They contain numerous redactions, which BuzzFeed News will challenge in our ongoing lawsuit.
The interview summaries released Monday include Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen, former White House chief of staff John Kelly, former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, former communications director Hope Hicks, deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, former political aide Omarosa Manigault, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
For Monday's installment, the government processed 506 pages, produced 231 pages, and redacted the records citing ongoing investigations, grand jury proceedings, and numerous other FOIA exemptions.
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Some takeaways from the newest documents:
Michael Cohen said Trump family lawyers kept him from telling the truth.
Cohen told FBI agents about negotiations to build a gleaming Trump Tower in the heart of Moscow, about how much Trump, who was then in the midst of a presidential campaign, knew about the negotiations, and about the false statement that Cohen later made to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees about it all.
Cohen said that during the presidential campaign, he informed Trump that he had a discussion with a “woman from the Kremlin” about the plan to build the tower, according to a Nov. 20, 2018, summary of his interview with FBI agents and prosecutors from Mueller's team.
Relevant document on page 37:
“Cohen told Trump he spoke with a woman from the Kremlin who had asked specific and great questions about Trump Tower Moscow, and that he wished Trump Organization had assistants that were that good and competent,” the FBI summary says.
He also said that in his letter to Congress about the development, he initially wrote that he had “limited contact with Russian officials.” But that line was struck from the letter. Cohen said he did not know who specifically struck it.
“It was the decision of the JDA to take it out,” the document says, referring to lawyers from the Joint Defense Agreement who represented the Trump family, Cohen, and Jared Kushner, “and Cohen did not push back.”
Cohen is currently serving a three-year prison sentence for perjury, tax fraud, and campaign finance violations at a federal correctional facility in upstate New York.
Relevant document on page 36:
Cohen also told the FBI after his home and office were raided last year that he spoke with Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow about pardons, stating that he had been “a loyal lawyer and servant and all of a sudden he was the subject of search and seizure.”
Sekulow told the AP on Monday evening that Cohen's statements were false. He didn't immediately respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment.
Cohen said that “it was an uncomfortable position to be in and wanted to know what was in it for him.”
Trump has long maintained that he did not have any business deals in Russia. Cohen told the FBI Trump knew those statements were lies because they had numerous, detailed discussions about the project.
Rick Gates told the FBI that Paul Manafort urged him not to accept a plea deal.
In an April 18, 2018 interview with FBI agents and prosecutors from Mueller's team, Gates said Paul Manafort told him in October or November 2017 that the White House would protect both of them and that it would be "stupid to plead" because they would get a "better deal down the road."
"Manafort said something like, 'I talked to Dowd. I've covered you at the White House' and added that a legal defense fund was coming and they were going to 'take care of us.' Manafort told Gates there were two funds out there. The first was called 'Patriot Defense Funds' and it covered White House staff. The other fund would cover anyone outside of the White House and Manafort and Gates would be '#1 and #2 on that list,'" according to a summary of Gates's interview.
On February 22, 2018, the day before Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI, Manafort turned up the pressure in hopes of convincing his longtime aide not to cooperate with Mueller's probe.
"Manafort called Gates and his tone was that Gates should 'stick to your guns, we'll get through this.' Manafort told Gates that he had been on the phone with [Trump's then-lawyer John] Dowd and his attorney when Trump apparently walked into the room with Dowd and said to Manafort words to the effect of 'stay strong,'" the FBI summary said. "Manafort told Gates that Kushner had sent him emails of support and that he could show the emails to Gates if they were together. Gates had the sense the emails Manafort mentioned were recent. Gates had no basis to trust Manafort and thought the conversation was designed to convince Gates not to plead guilty. By then, Gates had already made his decision. Gates added that Manafort talked a big game, but Gates had no confidence what he said was true."
Details of the discussion between Gates and Manafort has not been previously reported.
Relevant document on page 17
In February 2017, Trump wanted Comey to know “I really like him.” Comey was fired about three months later.
Christie told investigators that Trump wanted him to talk to then–FBI director James Comey in February 2017 and tell him "I really like him. Tell him he's part of the team. I really like him."
Comey, who was leading the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, was fired in May 2017.
Christie didn't make the call, saying it was "nonsensical" and because it "would have been uncomfortable."
"He would not put Comey in the position of having to receive that telephone call," Christie’s interview notes with the FBI read.
Relevant document on pages 165–166:
Rod Rosenstein was "overcome with emotion" when he discussed Comey's firing.
Rosenstein told the FBI he was brought into the White House for a meeting on May 8, 2017, and left with the understanding that Comey would soon be fired. During that meeting, he was tasked with writing a memo outlining his concerns about Comey, according to the FBI's notes of Rosenstein's May 23, 2017, interview.
That memo largely focused on Comey's handling of the Clinton email investigation. Rosenstein told investigators he was concerned about how the White House would take the memo since it was "not consistent" with Trump's comments on the campaign.
Rosenstein said his memo rationalizing firing Comey had to be 100% accurate "so he could stand behind it" and didn’t get much sleep that night.
Relevant document on page 115:
Rosenstein also said that no one from the White House influenced his writing of the memo.
But he had assumed that either he or then–attorney general Jeff Sessions would be the ones to fire Comey. On May 9, Rosenstein requested that Comey be brought in, only to find out that the then–FBI director had been fired that day over email. Rosenstein said he was "angry, ashamed, horrified, and embarrassed," as well as surprised to read in media reports that firing Comey had been his idea.
Rosenstein was "overcome by emotion" when discussing Comey's firing during his interview with FBI agents "but quickly recovered and apologized," according to a summary of his interview.
Following Comey’s firing on May 9, Christie told investigators that Trump called him and complained that he was “getting murdered,” presumably in the press, for the firing. Christie asked Trump whether he’d fired Comey because of Rosenstein’s memo, to which Trump replied “yes.” Christie then recommended that Trump “get Rod out there” to defend the decision. Trump said he liked the idea and would call Rosenstein.
On May 10, Rosenstein called Mueller — already thinking about appointing a special counsel. Rosenstein had learned from an FBI briefing that Trump was not a suspect and said he appointed Mueller due to how the public would react to the firing.
Rosenstein told the FBI that days before Mueller was appointed special counsel he was considered to replace Comey as FBI director. Mueller shared ideas about "what should be done with the FBI," which Sessions thought was "brilliant." Mueller interviewed for the FBI director's job on May 16 and met with Trump at the White, "but later decided to withdraw from consideration," Rosenstein told the FBI.
The next day, Mueller was appointed as special counsel. This previously undisclosed detail contradicts assertions by Trump that Mueller had applied for and was denied the job as FBI director.
Relevant document on pages 167–168:
The same evening Comey was fired, then–Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Flores relayed a message from the White House to Rosenstein. Though the memos do not make clear what that message was, Rosenstein said he told her that the Justice Department “cannot participate in putting out a false story.”
Flores then told Rosenstein that the White House wanted him to participate in a press conference about the firing, but he refused.
Christie laughed when Trump said "the Russia thing is over" after Michael Flynn left office.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was fired in February 2017 after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Kislyak.
Christie was having lunch with Trump on Valentine's Day when Trump told him, "Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over."
Christie told the FBI he laughed. "No way," he responded. "We'll be here on Valentine's Day 2018 talking about this."
Relevant document on page 164 to 165:
Hope Hicks said Trump was “angry, surprised, and frustrated” when Mueller was appointed.
Hicks, one of Trump's closest aides and former White House communications director, told investigators that Trump was “angry, surprised, and frustrated” when Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation in May 2017.
Hicks then mentioned Sessions, who had recused himself from the probe, followed by a short redacted section, but then she added: “The only other time she had seen Trump like that was when the Access Hollywood tape came out during the campaign.”
Relevant document on page 221:
Hicks believed that Obama's warning about Michael Flynn "sat with" Trump.
Hicks told the FBI that Barack Obama told Trump to “watch out for” Michael Flynn — and that she was surprised by how much Obama’s warning “sat with” the president.
Flynn was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under the Obama administration from 2012 until 2014, when he was forced to resign following reports about his “chaotic” management style and temperament issues. He emerged as a strong Trump supporter during the 2016 elections and served as Trump’s national security adviser from Jan. 23, 2017, until Feb. 13, 2017.
Citing unnamed officials, NBC News reported in 2017 that Obama had warned Trump about Flynn during their 90-minute Oval Office conversation following Trump’s win.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the Russia investigation in December 2017.
Relevant documents on pages 207 and 231:
Hicks told the FBI that Trump was bothered by “bad tweets” posted by his then–nominee for national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his son, Michael Flynn Jr. She also said that the president thought Flynn “had bad judgment.”
During the 2016 election, Flynn was an active — and controversial — participant in #MAGA Twitter under the handle @GenFlynn. In his tweets, he accused Hillary Clinton of crimes, posted anti-Muslim content — in a Feb. 26, 2016, tweet he wrote “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL" — and pushed baseless conspiracy theories.
Flynn Jr.’s account was equally controversial. In December 2016, he tweeted that the "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory — which falsely claims that a popular pizza restaurant in Washington, DC, was a front for the sex trafficking of children for top Democratic operatives — would remain a story until it was “proven false.” He also mocked Trump protesters. During the Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, he tweeted that the women in DC were marching for “free mani/pedis.”
Both accounts were deleted soon after Trump appointed Flynn national security adviser.
Relevant documents on pages 207 and 231:
Hope Hicks told the FBI she was “shocked” by emails about the Trump Tower meeting.
Hicks told federal investigators that she was “shocked” by emails between Donald Trump Jr. and others who attended a controversial meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Hicks, the former White House communications director, told the FBI that in June 2017, one year after the meeting took place, she reviewed emails about it and “thought they looked really bad.”
Senior Trump campaign officials attended the June 2016 meeting after being promised incriminating information on Clinton and after being told that it was part of the Russian government’s support of Trump. Emails released in July 2017 by Trump Jr. revealed that he responded enthusiastically to the offer before setting up the meeting, which became a focal point for both former special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional investigators probing Russian election interference.
In a June 2017 meeting at the White House, Hicks, the president, Ivanka Trump, and Jared Kushner discussed the Trump Tower meeting. “Kushner had a manila folder with documents with him and said to the President that they had found one thing that the President should know about, but it was not a big deal,” Hicks told the FBI.
Kushner then explained that he and other campaign officials had attended the meeting, “and started to open the folder when the President stopped him and said he did not want to know about it.” Hicks “speculated” that the envelope contained the emails she would later review, the interview summary says.
Representatives for Kushner and Trump Jr. didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Kushner’s claim that the meeting was “not a big deal” echoes the frequent argument from Trump, his family, and his allies that the Trump Tower meeting was fruitless and focused on the issue of American adoptions of Russian children. But the documents released Monday to BuzzFeed News further reveal serious concerns within the White House about the meeting, as well as how those in Trump’s orbit wanted to handle the eventual release of the emails.
“Hicks' initial reaction was that they should get in front of the emails,” the March 2018 interview summary reads. “She wanted Junior to do an interview with ‘softball questions’ to get the emails out there.”
“The President said they should not do anything, asked why so many people had the emails, and said they needed to let the lawyers deal with it,” the summary says.
Hicks’ concerns about the emails were met with disregard by the president. “Hicks told the President ‘this is going to be a massive story,’” she told the FBI. “She was not sure if she told him the emails were ‘really bad’ in that meeting. The President did not want to talk about it and did not want details.”
About a week later, when the New York Times was about to reveal that the meeting had occurred, Hicks advocated for being open and forthcoming about Trump Jr.’s emails, she told the FBI. But the president objected to that approach.
“When they got on the airplane, Hicks called [Trump Organization lawyer] Garten to get an update. He texted Hicks the statement Junior wanted to provide to the media. She took that to the President's cabin and read him Junior's statement. He told her they should not respond. Hicks advocated for providing the whole story. The President did not say what was wrong with Junior's statement, but just felt they were giving the media too much,” the interview summary states. Garten didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Throughout Hicks' conversations with Trump, it was clear to her Trump did not think the emails would get out,” the summary later adds. “Hicks' impression was Trump meant the emails would not get out to the press, but he did not say that explicitly.”
Hicks said that after discussing the statement with Trump, she started texting with Trump Jr. and “ultimately settled on the statement that went to the press.” Trump Jr.’s statement in the New York Times story claimed the meeting was focused on Russian adoptions, but left out details of being offered damaging information on Clinton. Three days later, the Times reported on the contents of the emails, and Trump Jr. tweeted them out.
Trump’s outside lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, also told Hicks he was working with Circa News “on a story that would blow the Russia investigation wide open,” and that because the news outlet was friendly to Trump, the statement should be given to them. “He told Hicks not to talk to the NYT,” the summary states. Kasowitz didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hicks told the FBI that Trump believed an intelligence community assessment that concluded Russia interfered in the 2016 election was the president’s “Achilles heel.”
“Even if it had no impact on the election, Trump thought that was what people would think. He thought the assessment took away from what he did,” Hicks said, according to the interview summary.
Mueller ultimately declined to charge Trump Jr. and other campaign officials with campaign finance violations in relation to the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting, stating in his report released in April that the president’s eldest son and the other participants likely did not know their actions were unlawful.
“On the facts here, the government would unlikely be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the June 9 meeting participants had general knowledge that their conduct was unlawful,” the Mueller report said. “The investigation has not developed evidence that the participants in the meeting were familiar with the foreign-contribution ban or the application of federal law to the relevant factual context. The government does not have strong evidence of surreptitious behavior or efforts at concealment at the time of the June 9 meeting.”
More on the Mueller report's secret memos
The cache of interview summaries released last month contained explosive details that were not cited in Mueller’s report. For example, in an April 2018 interview with the special counsel’s office, Gates told investigators that while Paul Manafort was running Trump’s campaign, he had pushed the unfounded theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that had hacked the Democratic National Committee’s servers. That theory has been thoroughly debunked by the US intelligence community, but Trump still cites it — most notably during the July 2019 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which is at the heart of the current impeachment investigation.
The 302s are just the beginning. BuzzFeed News is pursuing five separate lawsuits to pry loose all the subpoenas and search warrants that Mueller’s team executed, as well as all emails, memos, letters, talking points, legal opinions, and financial records it generated. In short, we asked for all communications of any kind that passed through the special counsel’s office. We also requested all the documents that would reveal the discussions among Attorney General Bill Barr, former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, and other high-ranking officials about whether to charge Trump with obstruction.
In response, Justice Department lawyers claimed the volume of records requested could total 18 billion pages and take centuries to produce.
Here's the full file:
Our full coverage of the Mueller Report's secret memos
- The first installment
- Trump's campaign was talking about the conspiracy theory that Ukraine was involved in the DNC hack back in 2016
- A former Trump campaign aide said the campaign was "very happy" about the release of hacked DNC emails
- Michael Cohen told investigators his lies to Congress were “not his idea”
Jason Leopold is a senior investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He is a 2018 Pulitzer finalist for international reporting, recipient of the IRE 2016 FOI award and a 2016 Newseum Institute National Freedom of Information Hall of Fame inductee.
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