A former Trump campaign official told federal investigators that Fox News host Sean Hannity "tailored his shows" based on recommendations from former campaign manager Paul Manafort, according to newly released FBI memos.
Former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates told former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators that Hannity worked closely with Manafort, according to FBI memos obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request made by BuzzFeed News.
Gates and Manafort, who were longtime business partners before joining the Trump campaign, were later indicted in connection to their overseas work for Russian-backed politicians in Ukraine.
Gates told investigators that Hannity and Manafort had a "good relationship" and that the Fox News host was a "Trump supporter who publicly applauded Manafort's hiring."
"During the campaign, Hannity tailored his shows to the agenda Manafort suggested," the FBI memo said. "Hannity called himself a 'pundit,' not a journalist."
Previous FBI memos published by BuzzFeed News mentioned Hannity more than a dozen times.
The Fox News host was "a central point of contact between the president's allies who were under investigation (by Mueller) and Trump himself," the memos said.
Manafort described Hannity as a "backchannel" to the president during his legal battle, according to the memos. Hannity offered to strategize Manafort's defense after his home was raided and "advised" witnesses in the Russia probe to "bash" their phones into "itsy-bitsy pieces," though Hannity said he was being facetious.
"Manafort knew Hannity was speaking to Trump around then because Hannity would tell Manafort to hang in there, that he had been talking to Trump, that Trump had his back, and things like that," one of the memos said. "Manafort understood his conversations with Hannity to be a message from Trump."
Court documents in Manafort's trial also showed hundreds of text messages between Trump's campaign chief and the Fox News host. Manafort was later sentenced to more than seven years in prison, while Gates was sentenced to 45 days after cooperating with investigators.
Hannity told Law & Crime that he "made clear every day" how he felt about "the treatment of Paul Manafort." He also said that he was proud of his journalism in spite of also claiming publicly that he is "not a journalist."
"I am extremely proud of the investigative reporting that me, my radio staff, TV staff and ensemble cast of reporters have done the last three years," he said. "While the media mob peddled lies and conspiracy theories and were proven wrong again and again, we have been vindicated on everything we reported from Hillary Clinton's server, deleted emails, dirty Russian dossier, premeditated fraud on the FISA Court, illegally spying and more."
But experts questioned the ethics of a would-be journalist who took his cues from the campaign he covers.
"It's alarming," Kelly McBride, a journalism ethics expert at Poynter Institute, told BuzzFeed News. "It's evidence that Hannity is as much a part of the president's inner circle as he is Fox's inner circle, and so you wonder where his loyalties are."
"Even if you are a partisan network, with a clear political ideology, you want your talent to place their loyalties with the audience, not the sources," she added, "unless your true objective has nothing to do with serving your audience, but your true objective actually is to carry out a political agenda."