Anyone following the Mueller investigation closely already knows the next name that will come out of my fingers, given the phrase “Russian Military Intelligence” in my title: Konstantin Kilimnik. For the uninitiated, Politico wrote a good profile of Paul Manafort’s “Man in Kiev” back in 2016:
A Russian Army-trained linguist who has told a previous employer of a background with Russian intelligence, Kilimnik started working for Manafort in 2005 when Manafort was representing Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, a gig that morphed into a long-term contract with Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-aligned hard-liner who became president of Ukraine.
Kilimnik eventually became “Manafort’s Manafort” in Kiev, and he continued to lead Manafort’s office there after Yanukovych fled the country for Russia in 2014, according to Ukrainian business records and interviews with several political operatives who have worked in Ukraine’s capital. Kilimnik and Manafort then teamed up to help promote Opposition Bloc, which rose from the ashes of Yanukovych’s regime. The party is funded by oligarchs who previously backed Yanukovych, including at least one who the Ukrainian operatives say is close to both Kilimnik and Manafort.
Oleg Deripaska is the main oligarch that Manafort worked for in Kiev, and a 2006 U.S. diplomatic cable disclosed by Wikileaks said that Deripaska was “among the 2-3 oligarchs [Vladimir] Putin turns to on a regular basis” and “a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin’s trips abroad.”
On April 11, 2016, two weeks after Donald Trump hired Paul Manafort to run his presidential campaign, Manafort had this exchange with Konstantin Kilimnik. Per The Atlantic (emphasis mine):
“I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?” Manafort wrote.
“Absolutely,” Kilimnik responded a few hours later from Kiev. “Every article.”
“How do we use to get whole,” Manafort asks. “Has OVD operation seen?”
“OVD” stands for Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska, and “how do we get whole” almost surely references Deripaska’s 2014 lawsuit filed in the Cayman Islands alleging that Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates defrauded him to the tune of $19 million.
This is the context that underlies today’s whoopsie made by Paul Manafort’s lawyers. They filed a new court briefing, and they redacted parts of it. One problem? If you copy and paste the entire document into a new document, the redacted portion magically appears. Here’s some of what Manafort’s lawyers tried to hide from the public in this filing (emphasis mine):
In fact, during a proffer meeting held with the Special Counsel on September 11, 2018, Mr. Manafort explained to the Government attorneys and investigators that he would have given the Ukrainian peace plan more thought, had the issue not been raised during the period he engaged with work related to the presidential campaign.
Issues and communications related to Ukrainian political events simply were not at the forefront of Mr. Manafort’s mind during the period at issue and it is not surprising at all that Mr. Manafort was unable to recall specific details prior to having his recollection refreshed. The same is true with regard to the Government’s allegation that Mr. Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign.
Robert Mueller said that Manafort repeatedly lied about his interactions with Kilimnik, and this redacted portion of the filing by Manafort’s lawyers seems to confirm this, but attempts to explain it away by essentially saying “of course the campaign chairman of the GOP presidential candidate couldn’t recall specific details about Ukraine on the spot.” The peace plan referenced is likely the Ukrainian peace plan delivered to Michael Flynn by Michael Cohen that is also being probed by Mueller. While that portion is illuminating, the last sentence is the reason why I am writing this right now.
One of the bigger unanswered questions in this whole Russia mess is the operational aspect of it. Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are walking paper trails, and it’s easy to see how the Kremlin merged on to the highway of standard corruption in American politics in order to influence men who exist solely to peddle influence. What we don’t know, and I suspect that it is because the news around Michael Flynn has been largely silent while he cooperates with the government, is how these constant connections between the Trump camp and Kremlin cutouts led to any tangible events. Here, Manafort’s lawyers may have flat-out told us about one.
We know that Russian disinformation from outlets like the indicted Internet Research Agency (IRA) tried very hard to suppress the African American vote in 2016, and they spread to every corner of the internet to stump for Trump. In their indictment, Robert Mueller detailed the IRA’s operation:
[The IRA] ad a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton. Defendants made various expenditures to carry out those activities, including buying political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities.
Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates. Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.
That’s a pretty specific plan, and one of the lingering questions is “how did they ‘strategize’ to sow discord?”
I have an idea.
The same is true with regard to the Government’s allegation that Mr. Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign.
Robert Mueller already knew about this. This line is Manafort’s lawyers attempting to explain the lies Mueller says he caught their client in. This isn’t a screw-up in the sense that Manafort’s attorneys hurt their legal case by exposing this to the world, but in that it sure doesn’t help the public perception of their client. Every day, what is possible in this case seems to expand, and today, we got confirmation from Paul Manafort’s lawyers that Donald Trump’s campaign chairman shared campaign polling data with a man who literally came up through Russian military intelligence. The next question is: why?
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.