Paul Manafort had a sympathetic media ally in Sean Hannity as federal investigators closed in and ultimately prosecuted the former Trump campaign chairman for a series of financial crimes and witness tampering, according to hundreds of text messages released Friday.
The exchanges — which a federal judge ordered unsealed and placed onto the public court docket — cover a period starting around the FBI’s summertime 2017 raid on Manafort’s Northern Virginia home and extending through the late spring of 2018, when the longtime GOP operative was gearing up for back-to-back criminal trials.
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Along the way, the Fox News host and Manafort engaged in many rapid-fire conversations discussing everything from Manafort’s criminal cases to Hannity’s on-air commentary that frequently targeted special counsel Robert Mueller and his prosecutors.
As news broke of the FBI raid on Manafort’s home, for example, Hannity wrote, “Please know you are in my prayers.” Manafort quickly replied, “Thank you. I need them. I feel so violated.”
Later in the day, Hannity wrote Manafort he was upset that “there are so many obvious crimes that are NOT being investigated” and added at the end of his message, “If you just ever want to talk, grab dinner, vent, strategize -whatever, I am here. I know this is very hard. Stand tall and strong.”
Hannity offered Manafort an ear on many more occasions, both to talk in private but also to appear on his primetime program to defend himself. They also frequently discussed what Hannity had just covered on air.
“I appreciate what you tried to do. Mueller is trying to intimidate me. The raid is just one example. I won’t let him succeed but it is very lonely fighting this fight. I feel all alone out there. Except for you and a few others, our side is not engaged,” Manafort texted Hannity a couple of days after the FBI raid in August 2017.
Later that same day, the former Trump campaign chairman referenced President Donald Trump: “The media is trying to split me with DT and family by lies and untruths.”
Hannity replied, “It is such a dirty game.”
Manafort offered Hannity real-time updates on his case, noting that in August he had hired new lawyers “who are junk yard dogs and will undo a lot of this injustice. But it is going to be a painful and expensive fight for me.”
Two months later, after Mueller obtained a 12-count indictment against Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates on charges that included money laundering, conspiring against the U.S. and acting as an unregistered foreign agent, Hannity texted, “Hey You OK?”
Manafort replied several hours later, “Yes. Rough day but yes. Their case is totally BS. Wrong on law and wrong on facts.”
The two men continued conversing even after the federal district court judge presiding over Manafort’s case in Washington, D.C., imposed a gag order in early November on all the parties.
“They are still f’ing with me on bail,” Manafort wrote a week later. “Getting close. Once dine[sic] then we need to sit and build the plan[.]”
Hannity replied, “Perfect” and then “Sooner better” — prompting Manafort to respond with his desire for top Trump administration officials to intervene on his behalf. “Hopefully Sessions moves on new Spec Pros” Manafort wrote, a reference to seeing the attorney general open up a probe into the origins of the underlying Russia investigation.
On Nov. 28, 2017, Manafort told Hannity in a text that he was “right on tonight.” He then took aim at Andrew Weissmann, complaining that the lead Mueller prosecutor was “squeezing people to lie about me or be indicted.”
“Yup,” Hannity replied. “Disgusting. I’ll be in the cell next to u.” Another message sent from the Fox host 20 seconds later added, ”Exposing him is my great pleasure. Tactics disgusting. Can u talk yet?”
That conversation continued with Manafort mentioning he had just spent that Thanksgiving with his family but “aWeissman made an issue of that too.”
“Omg. What an asshole,” Hannity replied. Manafort responded, “Yep. My lawyer told him to chill out.”
Manafort frequently praised Hannity in their messages. In a Dec 7, 2017, exchange, he told the Fox host that his monologue “was the best summary ever of the case against Mueller and his team.”
“F him,” Hannity replied, adding “Disgrace” and “Are u up?”
The text messages also show Manafort helped connect Hannity with one of his lead defense attorneys, telling the television anchor on Jan. 24, 2018, to expect a call from Kevin Downing. “He will update you on what we are doing and how it connects to your reporting,” Manafort wrote.
Hannity a month later relayed a message back to Manafort from Trump. “I’m disgusted at this corruption,” he wrote in one message, following by “It should not happen in the USA” and “I can tell u Potus is disgusted too[.]”
Later that month, Manafort appeared blindsided by Gates’ decision to flip and cooperate with prosecutors. In a series of messages on Feb. 22, 2018, he told Hannity there was no way Gates would cave.
“Gates new lawyer is going to be fine. Gates is in for ling [sic] haul,” Manafort wrote in a series of typo-ridden messages. “Gates is totalky [sic] united with trump and m.”
Just one day later, Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI. He also agreed to cooperate with Mueller prosecutors in exchange for leniency. Hannity reached out to Manafort. “WaPo saying Gates cut a deal. He gave you no heads up at all?”
Other messages from 2018 also suggest little respect for the gag order, with Manafort boasting of passing information to journalists, particularly those hostile to Mueller.
“I made Sara Carter a center point in my leaks motion reply last night,” Manafort wrote to Hannity, referencing a conservative reporter who appears regularly on his show. “My person has briefed her up,” Manafort added.
“She told me,” Hannity replied.
In the messages, Manafort exhibits or projects a remarkable lack of insight into how receptive the courts were likely to be to his legal maneuvers. Manafort appears convinced that U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis is going to upend the tax-focused case Mueller’s team filed in Virginia. Manafort seemed to expect that the judge would rule that Mueller prosecutors pursued him on those charges without proper approval from the Justice Department.
“Ellis understands this point clearly,” Manafort wrote to Hannity on May 5, 2018. “He rules the way he spoke and this is part of his findings.”
“Ellis understands [Andrew Weissmann] took dismissed matters and created crimes that did not existed using smears and prejudicial illegal leaks to create a narrative upon which to indict,” Manafort added a couple of days later. “Coupled with illegal delegation by [Rod Rosenstein] we get to good end.”
The following month, Ellis refused all of Manafort’s attacks on the indictment. The judge also declined to address the leak complaints until after Manafort went on trial.
Manafort is serving a combined 7 ½ year sentence tied to his conviction in the Ellis case, as well as his guilty plea for the witness tampering and lobbying crimes.
Hannity tweeted a statement following the release of the texts: “My view of the Special Counsel investigation and the treatment of Paul Manafort were made clear every day to anyone who listens to my radio show or watches my TV show.”
An attorney for Manafort did not respond to requests for comment.