BuzzFeed News on Saturday saw the first fruit of its ongoing legal battle to obtain public records from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
The records are already making news.
The first cache of court-ordered documents released from the office consists of 500 pages of 302s — summaries of FBI interviews — and other materials.
Among the interviews flagged by BuzzFeed reporters is evidence that the effort to pin election meddling on Ukraine, rather than Russia as the Mueller report and the U.S. intelligence community found, is as old as the election meddling story itself.
In a 2018 interview with Rick Gates, the aide of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Gates told investigators that Manafort speculated the Ukrainians were behind the 2016 hacks of Democrats’ emails.
“Gates recalled Manafort saying the hack was likely carried out by the Ukrainians, not the Russians, which parroted a narrative Kilimnik often supported,” the 302 reads.
A related conspiracy theory is now the subject of the House’s impeachment inquiry. In his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump pressed Zelensky on a conspiracy that the hacked DNC “server” — though in reality there’s more than one — was actually in Ukraine. Such theories assert that evidence collected from the Democratic servers pinning the hacks on Russia was actually manufactured.
More broadly, the Gates 302 obtained by BuzzFeed reflects the extent of the then-Trump campaign’s excitement that the Democrats had been hacked.
In one instance recalled by Gates to investigators, Trump ordered his staff to get the stolen material.
“Gates recalled a time on the campaign aircraft when candidate Trump said, ‘get the emails,'” the summary reads.
Before returning to U.S. politics with the Trump campaign in 2016, Manafort advised the pro-Russian Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych. “Kilimnik” in the 302 is Konstantin Kilimnik, the Manafort associate “who the FBI assesses to have ties to Russian intelligence,” the Mueller report noted, and with whom Manafort consulted during the 2016 campaign.
Kilimnik, in August 2016, brought Manafort a “peace plan” for the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. In 2018, Mueller brought a grand jury indictment against Manafort and Kilimnik for obstruction of justice.
Rudy Giuliani, in his ongoing quest to dig up politically useful dirt for Trump, has acknowledged speaking to Manafort about the former campaign chairman’s plight, specifically Manafort’s claim that a ledger showing off-books payments to him was manufactured. Manafort is currently behind bars at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City.
Read the documents BuzzFeed News obtained here.