The federal government on Thursday released hundreds of pages of interviews conducted as part of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and alleged attempts by President Donald Trump to obstruct that inquiry.
The FBI records, known as 302s, are the latest batch handed over to BuzzFeed News and CNN in response to a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act. Collectively, the documents show what hundreds of people told the special counsel’s office behind closed doors during its two-year probe, which began in May 2017.
- Mueller’s team noted that one of the key players in the Roger Stone investigation, his former ally Jerome Corsi, wasn’t the most reliable source. An FBI agent wrote that Corsi “had a hard time determining whether or not he was actually remembering things or if he was inventing them.”
- After the 2016 election, Roger Stone was desperate to meet Trump, according to an interview with Steve Bannon. The president-elect finally agreed, telling Bannon to end the meeting after five minutes. Trump just stared at Stone, saying only “Thanks, thanks a lot.” After no more than six minutes, “Stone was out.”
- In August 2016, when the New York Times linked Trump’s then-campaign chair Paul Manafort to nearly $13 million in payments from the ruling Ukrainian political party, Steve Bannon “knew Manafort was done.” Bannon said he told Trump and Jared Kushner to cut off communications, and it was Kushner who actually fired Manafort.
- Even before joining the campaign, Steve Bannon was obsessed with Hillary Clinton’s missing 33,000 emails, which he believed were both his “white whale” and the “Holy Grail.” But he dismissed Stone, who frequently talked about his personal relationship with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, as a “braggart.” Bannon thought it would be impossible to verify the emails that WikiLeaks published.
- After the final presidential debate in 2016, the Trump campaign was in dire need of at least $15 million. According to Bannon, Kushner said Trump would not donate to his own campaign because, according to the FBI interview notes, “he was not a guy who while six to eight points down, was going to write $25 million dollar checks. They were not even in the hunt. Coming out of the last debate, they were in fantasy land, they were so far behind.”
- To resolve the cash-flow problem, Bannon recalled, Steve Mnuchin put together what amounted to a $10 million “cash advance” to the campaign that was needed to pay for the campaign’s final television advertisement. When Mnuchin showed the term sheet over to Trump, “Bannon didn’t think Trump even read the documents.”
- An unidentified source “described Manafort as a demanding yet brilliant campaign strategist; however, he was not a good guy or a fun guy to work for.”
- After FBI Director James Comey was fired, it took a month before officials realized they hadn’t retrieved what is known as the “red laptop” — which he had used to take notes after the meeting when Trump alarmed him by asking for his loyalty. Notes from an FBI interview of personnel involved in the matter show that after some consternation, they retired the laptop and put its hard drive in a safe in the bureau’s offices.
To date, well over 4,000 pages of interviews have been released, and although many of them are heavily — if not completely — redacted, they provide an unprecedented window into the workings of the Mueller probe, one that extends far beyond the 448-page final report it produced in 2019.
In a related case, also filed by BuzzFeed News, a federal judge on Wednesday found that the Justice Department had improperly redacted significant portions of the Mueller report that was released in April 2019. The judge ordered the government to unredact and publish those portions by Nov. 2.
In the previous batch of 302s, released last month, a witness described in detail the “unorthodox” fundraising structure of Trump’s 2016 campaign, noting that it was completely unprepared to bring in money or comply with federal campaign finance laws. Up until the time that Trump became the Republican Party’s putative nominee, “the only activity was the campaign merchandise store,” the person, whose name is redacted, told investigators.
Former campaign manager Paul Manafort said that he believed Roger Stone, who served as an informal adviser to the campaign, had a connection to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Manafort said he asked Stone to keep abreast of the group’s activities but did not let on that the request came directly from Trump lest the then–campaign chair be seen as an “errand boy.”
To date, the Mueller probe has produced 37 indictments and seven convictions; it has also led to numerous other criminal investigations that are ongoing around the country. Trump and his supporters have consistently tried to discredit the investigation, with the president frequently dismissing it as a “witch hunt.”
Trump has found significant support in that effort from his attorney general, Bill Barr, who overlooked major findings of the probe when he announced its conclusion in March 2019. He has since intervened in cases related to the investigation, among them the prosecutions of Stone and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Barr also tapped a US attorney in Connecticut, John Durham, to investigate the origins of the Russia inquiry; the results are expected later this fall.
BuzzFeed News sued the FBI and the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act for access to the hundreds of 302s compiled during the course of the Mueller investigation; that litigation was subsequently joined by CNN. While Mueller’s final report drew heavily on those 302s, much of the content of the typewritten summaries for every single interview conducted by the investigators has never before been reviewed by the public.
BuzzFeed News has challenged some of those redactions in court, and is also pursuing multiple lawsuits asking the government to release a large volume of other documents generated by the special counsel’s office, including memoranda, talking points, financial records, and legal opinions.
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.