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‘I cannot allow them to win’: Through federal case, Paul Manafort found ally in Sean Hannity

Fox News host Sean Hannity arrives onstage to speak with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus during the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 4, 2016, in Maryland.
Fox News host Sean Hannity arrives onstage to speak with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus during the Conservative Political Action Conference on March 4, 2016, in Maryland. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
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The day news broke that Paul Manafort’s condo in Alexandria had been raided by federal agents, an influential friend reached out.

“Please know you are in my prayers,” Fox News host Sean Hannity wrote Manafort in August 2017, one of hundreds of text messages unsealed Friday by D.C. federal court Judge Amy Berman Jackson.

From the inception of the fraud and conspiracy case against Manafort to the eve of his trial in Alexandria federal court last year, the former Trump campaign chairman regularly traded opinions and information with the conservative television personality regarding special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. Manafort put Hannity in touch with his defense attorney Kevin Downing, and Hannity relayed information from President Trump’s orbit.

“I won’t sell out,” Manafort promised. “I cannot allow them to win . . . it would empower them to go after [Trump] and lots of others.”

He added: “Plus i plan on helping on the re elect!”

The conversations first came to the judge’s attention when prosecutors included them as part of their sentencing papers earlier this year, arguing Manafort was unrepentant and should be dealt with harshly.

The newly unsealed filings show that Jackson asked why Downing and his client should not be found in contempt of a gag order she imposed in the case. The transcript of a sealed hearing at which Downing addressed Jackson’s concerns is not yet publicly available.

When negative news about President Trump breaks, Fox News often talks about anything else, including cheeseburger emojis and aggressive pandas. (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The text messages illustrate how enmeshed Hannity was in Manafort’s defense, regularly checking in on developments big and small. The longtime lobbyist asked Hannity for help promoting his legal defense fund and keeping his case in the news. Hannity, in turn, encouraged Manafort to “stay strong.”

Read the texts between Manafort and Hannity here

The messages also provide another example of the extraordinarily close relationship between Hannity, Fox News’s biggest star, and the president and those in his circle.

Hannity has offered unwavering support of Trump and his allies, both on his prime-time TV program and his widely syndicated radio program. Trump, in turn, has helped boost Hannity’s TV ratings by granting him numerous interviews, including one on Wednesday after Trump announced his reelection campaign.

Although Manafort had promised Hannity he would be “first and regular as we go public,” the gag order kept him or his attorneys from appearing on television despite Hannity’s persistent requests.

“Building a plan B,” he told the host after the gag order was imposed. He pointed Hannity toward material he felt would be favorable to his case if publicized on television. He also told Hannity he was using material uncovered by the Fox News host in his legal arguments. At one point he said he needed to put his lawyer in touch with Gregg Jarrett, another Fox News host.

But he did connect Downing with Hannity for a phone call in January 2018. Hannity responded enthusiastically, “I asked him to feed me every day.”

In a tweet, Hannity said his “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.” Fox declined to comment directly; a spokeswoman, Carly Shanahan, responded to an inquiry by referring to Hannity’s tweet.

Hannity also seemed to act as a conduit of sorts between Manafort and Trump. In February 2018, Hannity told Manafort, “I can tell you Potus is disgusted too.” Manafort, whose trial was then fast approaching, responded: “I live in a nightmare every day. But I won’t give in.”

In May, after Trump had hired Rudolph W. Giuliani to represent him, Hannity told Manafort he had “Brought up u case with Rudy.”

“Rudy seems to get it,” Manafort responded.

The texts also offer a window into Manafort’s thinking as he faced a potential life sentence, including why he refused to let prosecutors consolidate his two cases in D.C. federal court.

“I chose the two fronts” to put pressure on Jackson and the special counsel, Manafort explained, saying that “it was key to my strategy.”

Throughout, Manafort expressed optimism that the case against him was weak and that he would prevail. When the media reported that his former deputy Rick Gates, who had been indicted alongside Manafort in October 2017, had changed lawyers and was considering cooperating against him, Manafort assured Hannity that the reports were false.

“Gates is in for [long] haul,” Manafort wrote, adding that Gates was totally “united with Trump.”

The next day, Hannity texted Manafort to alert him that The Washington Post was reporting that Gates had made a deal with the government and was preparing to plead guilty. “He gave u no heads up at all?” Hannity asked. Manafort did not respond.

But a couple weeks later, Manafort said that, unlike Gates, he would never cooperate, because the special counsel would “want me to give up [Trump] or family,” especially the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

When Hannity asked what Kushner had done, Manafort clarified that it was “nothing.”

At various points, Hannity implied to Manafort that he was in contact with former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had by then pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and was cooperating with the special counsel’s office. In March 2018, Hannity wrote to Manafort that Flynn intended to withdraw his guilty plea. He did not.

Despite his confidence, Manafort repeatedly expressed frustration with then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for not intervening in the special counsel investigation.

“Sessions is totally worthless,” he wrote Hannity a few months before his trial.

The last message was dated June 5, 2018, days before Manafort was charged with witness tampering and jailed pending trial.

Manafort was found guilty at trial in Alexandria federal court of bank and tax fraud and went on to plead guilty in D.C. federal court to conspiracy and trying to tamper with witnesses. He was sentenced to a total of 7½ years in prison.

An attorney for Manafort did not return a request for comment Friday.

Rosalind S. Helderman and Paul Farhi contributed to this report.

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