Exclusive: Mueller met with Trump's pollster

Special counsel Robert Mueller sought information directly last year from one of Donald Trump's campaign pollsters who is also a former business associate of Paul Manafort's.

Posted: Jan 11, 2019 8:49 AM
Updated: Jan 11, 2019 9:18 AM

Special counsel Robert Mueller sought information directly last year from one of Donald Trump's campaign pollsters who is also a former business associate of Paul Manafort's.

Mueller's team met with pollster Tony Fabrizio in February 2018, an interview that has not been previously reported and takes on new significance after Manafort's attorneys revealed Tuesday that Mueller's team is still interested in how Manafort shared polling data with his Russian intelligence-linked colleague.

CNN journalists observed Fabrizio leaving the special counsel's office on the first of February last year and have since confirmed he was meeting with Mueller's team. At the time, the special counsel had been digging into Manafort's finances and political work ahead of his trial.

In a filing Tuesday, Manafort's attorneys tried to redact the fact that prosecutors knew Manafort shared polling data related to the 2016 presidential election with his Russian intelligence-linked associate Konstantin Kilimnik while Manafort was running Trump's presidential campaign. The information was supposed to remain secret because it's part of an ongoing investigation, but it was revealed because of a formatting error in the filing.

Fabrizio's involvement with Mueller is intriguing because he's one of the few people in Manafort's orbit with knowledge of the inner-workings of the Trump campaign as well as Manafort's Eastern European connections.

A veteran pollster and political strategist, Fabrizio worked on Ukrainian elections with Manafort and went on to serve as the Trump campaign's chief pollster beginning in the spring of 2016.

A source familiar with the special counsel's interest said Fabrizio's interview included questions about his polling work for Manafort in Ukraine rather than his internal Trump campaign polling. It is not clear what other topics were broached in the interview or whether it solely focused on Fabrizio's knowledge of Manafort's business dealings.

The Justice Department initially asked Mueller to look into Manafort's political ties in Ukraine because they may relate to other allegations of Russian coordination with the Trump campaign.

Fabrizio would not comment for this story.

When asked Thursday if he had any knowledge that Manafort shared polling data with a Russian, President Trump said, "No. I didn't know anything about it. Nothing about it."

More than a dozen people affiliated with the Trump campaign have been interviewed by the Mueller team, according to the President's legal team.

Trump's first pollster

For much of the 2016 race, Trump had been famously averse to hiring pollsters. He insisted they were a waste of money and that his gut was more valuable than any poll he could commission.

But when Manafort was hired, the newly minted campaign chairman aimed to professionalize the political apparatus. As part of that effort, he recruited Fabrizio, who already had close ties to Manafort and other Trump allies, including Trump's longtime political adviser Roger Stone. But he never forged particularly close ties with the candidate, despite having done some prior work for Trump's businesses.

His relationship with Trump soured late in the election as the Trump campaign disputed a bill of roughly $767,000 to Fabrizio's polling firm. Fabrizio's firm was eventually compensated.

The source familiar with the situation said Fabrizio was unaware of who Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, had shared campaign data with during the election.

The revelation about the exchange of poll data between Manafort and Kilimnik sparked alarm among Democrats this week and fueled speculation that the Russians could have used such information to tailor their efforts to meddle in the 2016 election.

"This appears as the closest we've seen yet to real live actual collusion," Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN Wednesday. "Did the Russians end up using this information in their efforts that took place later in the fall where they tried using the Internet Research Agency and other bots and other automated tools on social media to suppress, for example, the African-American vote? Was that something that was driven by this campaign data that was turned over to the Russians?"

Manafort's consulting world

Fabrizio had long been among Manafort's circle of political operatives and became part of the cast of characters mentioned during his criminal trial last summer.

At trial, Mueller's team painted a picture of a well-oiled Ukrainian lobbying operation in which Manafort and his colleagues took in millions of dollars a year from pro-Russian oligarchs, some of which was funneled through secret, illegal offshore bank accounts.

Fabrizio did not testify at Manafort's August trial, nor was he on the prosecutors' witness list. He has not been charged with a crime.

Fabrizio's firm earned more than a quarter million dollars from Manafort for polling and surveys in Manafort's Ukraine operation in 2012 and 2013, according to foreign lobbying disclosures.

Since the trial, the prosecutors have appeared to focus even more on Manafort's Eastern European relationships, especially with Kilimnik, which apparently continued through the presidential campaign and after Trump was elected President.

Fabrizio's Ukrainian work with Manafort in 2013 overlapped with Kilimnik, according to public filings. At the time, Kilimnik was setting up Manafort's Kiev operation.

Prosecutors have said Kilimnik has ties to the Russian military intelligence agency that hacked the Democrats during the election, according to a US intelligence assessment. Kilimnik has become a clear focus of the ongoing Mueller investigation since prosecutors accused him of attempting to tamper with witnesses following Manafort's arrest.

Prosecutors charged Kilimnik with obstructing justice for contacting the potential witnesses last spring. Kilimnik lives in Russia, prosecutors say, and has not appeared in US court to respond to his indictment.

In a portion of the Manafort court filing this week, Manafort's lawyers inadvertently revealed Manafort met with Kilimnik in Madrid in 2017. The two men also discussed a Ukrainian peace plan while Manafort was serving as Trump's campaign chairman.

As prosecutors were building their case against Manafort, they aimed to flip his longtime deputy Gates from fighting criminal charges to cooperating. Gates had unparalleled insight to offer into Manafort's finances as well as the Trump campaign, having served as Trump's deputy campaign chairman and a leader of the inaugural committee.

Soon after Fabrizio spoke to Mueller's team last year, Gates began cooperating.

Gates continues to assist Mueller in several ongoing investigations, according to prosecutors and his legal defense team.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 481397

Reported Deaths: 9395
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison32996486
Hinds30973586
DeSoto30491353
Jackson23650348
Rankin21267368
Lee14867220
Madison14145271
Jones13365226
Forrest13125238
Lauderdale11538305
Lowndes10418176
Lamar10184130
Pearl River9055219
Lafayette8218137
Hancock7501112
Washington7033150
Oktibbeha6937124
Monroe6491161
Neshoba6463201
Warren6439163
Pontotoc626593
Panola6219126
Bolivar6105144
Marshall6102121
Union573086
Pike5590136
Alcorn536090
Lincoln5297131
George470072
Scott456096
Leflore4468140
Prentiss445277
Tippah443680
Itawamba4430100
Adams4403116
Tate4351101
Simpson4324112
Wayne431566
Copiah431087
Yazoo423086
Covington414792
Sunflower4137104
Marion4087104
Leake397186
Coahoma394298
Newton368775
Grenada3553104
Stone350659
Tishomingo334689
Attala324886
Jasper313762
Winston303591
Clay295273
Chickasaw286665
Clarke280290
Calhoun265140
Holmes261887
Smith249549
Yalobusha220547
Tallahatchie218850
Walthall210558
Greene207845
Lawrence206033
Perry199353
Amite198152
Webster195942
Noxubee178239
Montgomery172054
Jefferson Davis167642
Carroll161937
Tunica152734
Benton142035
Kemper138440
Claiborne126634
Choctaw126326
Humphreys126337
Franklin116628
Quitman103626
Wilkinson101536
Jefferson88833
Sharkey62820
Issaquena1926
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 781915

Reported Deaths: 13798
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1109621748
Mobile706071213
Madison49359617
Baldwin36054485
Shelby35933311
Tuscaloosa33540540
Montgomery32996673
Lee22337218
Calhoun20935400
Morgan19666329
Etowah18890454
Marshall17575274
Houston16598377
St. Clair15287298
Limestone14442184
Cullman14441252
Elmore14299259
Lauderdale13395278
Talladega12781234
DeKalb12102233
Walker10495328
Autauga9611135
Blount9595154
Jackson9293152
Coffee8764174
Dale8485171
Colbert8448180
Tallapoosa6557177
Escambia6541117
Covington6409165
Chilton6314142
Russell600655
Franklin5744101
Chambers5350133
Marion4748116
Dallas4672185
Clarke459177
Pike458895
Geneva4333116
Winston420292
Lawrence4099108
Bibb405680
Barbour342969
Marengo324783
Monroe316652
Butler316088
Randolph302855
Pickens300673
Henry299657
Hale290483
Cherokee286752
Fayette276473
Washington245048
Crenshaw236768
Clay226264
Cleburne225750
Macon218057
Lamar192541
Conecuh180146
Lowndes170758
Coosa167533
Wilcox159636
Bullock148642
Perry136336
Sumter124136
Greene120542
Choctaw73326
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 68°
Columbus
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 68°
Oxford
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 70°
Starkville
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 68°
Fall has started off exactly as you would have anticipated and it looks like we should have a number of dry days still ahead, but this isn’t a permanent switch, because heat is pegged to return.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather