Robert Mueller was famously unable to establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. Possibly this was because no such conspiracy took place, but it is also very possible that Mueller was thwarted by the refusal of the two campaign aides most closely involved with Russia’s election operation, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, to cooperate with his probe. Mueller found that Manafort passed 75 pages of polling data to a suspected Russian intelligence agent during the campaign, but couldn’t figure out what the data was used for.
Newly-released text messages between Manafort and Fox News host Sean Hannity in 2017 and 2018 give more insight into Manafort’s relationship with Trump, and why he may have withheld cooperation. In the texts, Manafort repeatedly lavishes superlative praise on Hannity, who in addition to hosting slavish pro-Trump propaganda, also gives the president private advice frequently. “You are so important to saving our country,” Manafort says, at one point complaining that in a fair world, Hannity would get a Pulitzer prize.
Manafort repeatedly assures Hannity (and, therefore, Trump) that he won’t flip on the president. “I won’t give in,” he insists. At one point, Hannity asks why Manafort does not “get a sweetheart deal like [Rick] Gates?,” his former partner who cooperated with Mueller in exchange for a dramatically reduced prison sentence. Manafort replies, “They would want me to give up dt [President Trump] or family, especially jk [Jared Kushner]. I would never do that.” Hannity tells Manafort to “stay strong.”
In apparent response for these expressions of loyalty, Hannity repeatedly offers to assist Manafort (“anything I can do to help.”) Manafort states at one point he hopes he hopes to help Trump’s reelection campaign (“i plan on helping on the re elect!”)
When Manafort first faced charges, the conservative movement line maintained that he was a low-rent crook who had glommed on to poor, unsuspecting Donald Trump for a short period of time, for his own ends. Manafort’s hiring was “ a searing indictment of Trump’s judgment in bringing Manafort into his campaign in the first place,” said Marc Thiessen. “When all this is over, President Trump will be seen as one of the greatest political naïfs to come down the Beltway pike in a long time” for hiring Manafort, suggested Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger.
But the discovery that Manafort had committed crimes did not sever his relationship with Trumpworld. Manafort clearly maintained an investment in Trump that lasted well beyond his formal tenure as campaign manager. And Trump, through Hannity, appeared to likewise indicate a reciprocal loyalty. If Manafort had no information that would incriminate Trump or his family, it’s a little odd that Hannity would maintain such passionate interest in his continuing legal defense, or his refusal to cooperate. It’s almost as if there was more to the relationship.