The Justice Department and FBI on Saturday released the first batch of notes from interviews conducted in the special counsel’s investigation with three key witnesses: Rick Gates, Steve Bannon and Michael Cohen.
Gates, who served as deputy to Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, provided details about discussions inside the Trump campaign regarding WikiLeaks’ release of Democrats’ emails.
The special counsel’s report said that investigators found no evidence that Trump associates took part in the hack of Democrats’ emails, or helped with their release. But Gates provided evidence that Trump and others on the campaign were eager for the emails to be released.
Gates told investigators that the Trump campaign was energized by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s statement on June 12, 2016, regarding the release of information that would be damaging to Democrats.
In an interview in October 2018, Gates said that Manafort had him “periodically” check-in for updates on the release of the information with an individual whose name is redacted in the interview notes. He also said that he was working with Manafort and others on a “messaging strategy” in anticipation of the release.
When WikiLeaks released DNC emails on July 22, 2016, Gates said that the campaign was “very happy.” He said that Manafort was pleased because the release of the emails provided a “mode of deflection” from controversy at the time surrounding Trump’s attacks on Ted Cruz’s father.
Gates also told investigators that after the initial document dump, he was present when Trump spoke with someone by phone who claimed that WikiLeaks planned to release additional emails.
An indictment against Roger Stone, a longtime Trump associate, referred to a Trump phone call that appears similar to the one described by Gates. Stone goes on trial later this month on charges that he made false statements to Congress regarding his contacts with the Trump campaign regarding WikiLeaks.
He has denied having inside information from WikiLeaks regarding plans to release additional emails. On July 29, 2016, Assange said in an interview on CNN that he planned to release more information about Hillary Clinton.
Gates and Cohen were two of the most cooperative witnesses for the special counsel’s team. Gates pleaded guilty on Feb. 23, 2018, to conspiracy and false statement charges.
Cohen, who was Trump’s personal attorney, began cooperating with the special counsel on Aug. 7, 2018. He pleaded guilty in the special counsel’s investigation on Nov. 29, 2018, to making false statements to Congress regarding his efforts to negotiate a Trump Tower in Moscow in 2016.
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