The Trump campaign was actually being spied on in 2016, claims former Trump campaign chair and convicted felon Paul Manafort in his forthcoming book. It just wasn’t by anyone who Trump has accused of doing so on Twitter.
Instead, Manafort writes, it was former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who made himself administrator of the campaign server in an attempt to make himself relevant within the campaign. The result gave him full access to every email sent by campaign staffers. As Manafort wrote “he had access to everybody’s communications. He had knowledge and he would be sitting in his office, gaining knowledge by virtue of spying on the campaign.”
This revelation came in Manafort’s upcoming book Political Prisoner: Persecuted, Prosecuted but Not Silenced of which Vox obtained a copy.
In the book, Manafort claims that Cohen approached him unprompted with this stunning claim in the spring of 2016 in order to inform on the activities of then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski bashing Manafort to the press. The two men had been in an extended and amply chronicled power struggle over control of the campaign, which finally culminated with Lewandowski being fired and escorted out of Trump Tower by security.
In a statement to Vox, Cohen denied the allegations. “Not surprisingly, Manafort is distorting the truth. I requested administrative access to only Corey Lewandowski’s campaign email address after he was terminated. The purpose was to prove to Trump that it was Corey who was leaking negative information on Jared and Ivanka to the press. The information was located and turned over to Donald.”
Cohen, who spent over ten years as Trump’s attorney, has since renounced the former President and become a vocal critic. The longtime Trump fixer, who notoriously paid off porn star Stormy Daniels to cover up her sexual relationship with Trump, was ensnared in the Mueller probe and pled guilty to eight counts of fraud and campaign finance violations in 2018.
The accusation is the rare bit of interesting information in what is mostly a self-aggrandizing diatribe that is often repetitive and occasionally prone to basic factual errors— in discussing the Access Hollywood scandal there are references to both “Billie Bush” and “Billy Bush” on the same page. Instead of a memoir, it seems designed to make Manafort a martyr in the eyes of Fox News viewers—a Nathan Hale in Brioni suits who only regretted that he had one life to give on behalf of Donald Trump.
Manafort describes spending his days in prison entirely devoted to consuming MAGA media outlets. In one prison where Manafort had access to a television, he describes starting his days with Fox and Friends and ending with the full Fox News primetime lineup. At another, reliant only on a radio, he describes developing “a real fondness for Dan Bongino” and his disappointment that he “could not find a station that carried my friends Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.” His zeal is not just limited to Fox News personalities. In fact, he confides that through his frequent commercials on conservative media outlets that “Mike Lindell became my surrogate family” and that he dreamt every night of getting his own My Pillows in jail.
A long-time Washington power lobbyist who spent a decade working in Ukraine on behalf of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and previously represented a host of other unsavory foreign leaders ranging from the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos to Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, Manafort joined Trump’s campaign in March 2016 and took full control after Lewandowski’s ouster. He only lasted three months before stepping down in August, under considerable scrutiny over his ties to Russia through his work in Ukraine.
Eventually, through the Mueller probe (one which Manafort claims was actually being led by Robert Mueller’s top deputy Andrew Weissman because, he believes without evidence, Mueller “was suffering through an advancing stage of dementia”), the former top Trump aide was sentenced to a total 73 months in jail. He was first found guilty on eight counts of fraud and filing false tax returns in Virginia. He avoided a second trial in Washington D.C. by reaching a plea deal with prosecutors and fully admitting his guilt to all the offenses that he had been charged with by prosecutors in both jurisdictions. Manafort was eventually pardoned by Trump on December 23, 2020, more than seven months after he was released from prison and put on home confinement due to the COVID pandemic.
Several revelations in the book have been previously reported by other outlets including that Manafort was informally advising the Trump campaign through back channels in 2020 while on home confinement and anxiously awaiting a potential pardon.
Will you support Vox’s explanatory journalism?
Millions turn to Vox to understand what’s happening in the news. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower through understanding. Financial contributions from our readers are a critical part of supporting our resource-intensive work and help us keep our journalism free for all. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.