Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort worked closely with a Russian intelligence officer who may have been involved in the hack and release of Democratic emails during the election, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in a bipartisan report released Tuesday.
It’s the furthest U.S. officials have gone in describing
Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime Manafort business associate, as an agent of the
Russian government, reported Politico. The disclosure was part of the committee’s fifth and final
installment of its investigation of the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016
In particular, the committee’s investigation found that
Manafort “represented a grave counterintelligence threat” due to his
relationship with Kilimnik and other Russians connected to the country’s
intelligence services — a bombshell conclusion that underscores how Russia
developed a direct pipeline to the upper echelons of a U.S. presidential
“Kilimnik quickly became an integral part of Manafort’s
operations in Ukraine and Russia,” the report states, adding that the pair
“formed a close and lasting relationship that would endure to the 2016 U.S.
elections and beyond.”
Tuesday’s report, the product of a three-year bipartisan probe by the
committee, focuses on counterintelligence aspects of the U.S. government’s
Russia investigation, including allegations that Trump campaign officials
coordinated with Russian operatives. It outlines in exhaustive detail the
extent of Trump campaign officials’ contacts with Russians, though it stops
short of alleging a direct coordination effort.
The committee, which conducted the only bipartisan
investigation on Capitol Hill centering on Russia’s 2016 meddling, also raised
the possibility that Manafort was personally connected to the “hack-and-leak
operations” that targeted Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The
committee states that “some evidence suggests Kilimnik may be connected” to the
effort, which was helmed by Russia’s GRU, its main military-intelligence
directorate. WikiLeaks eventually released the documents obtained in the GRU
cyberattack, which included Democratic National Committee emails.
The committee cautioned that Manafort’s personal involvement
with the operation is “largely unknown” because investigators were unable to
learn the full extent of many of the conversations between Manafort and
Kilimnik, which included several in-person meetings, about which “no objective
record of their content exists.”
“Kilimnik was in sustained contact with Manafort before,
during, and after the GRU cyber and influence operations, but the committee did
not obtain reliable, direct evidence that Kilimnik and Manafort discussed the
GRU hack-and-leak operation,” the report states.
Kilimnik’s role as a Russian intelligence officer is one of
several findings in the 966-page report showing that Trump campaign contacts
with Russian intelligence-connected operatives were more extensive than
previously known. The report also showed that at least two participants in a
June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Manafort, senior adviser Jared Kushner and
Donald Trump Jr. were more deeply tied to Russian intelligence than other
reports have indicated.
assesses that at least two participants in the June 9, 2016 meeting, [Natalia]
Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, have significant connections to the Russian
government, including the Russian intelligence services,” the panel concluded.
“The connections the committee uncovered, particularly regarding Veselnitskaya,
were far more extensive and concerning than what had been publicly known.”
Kilimnik is described as not only aiding the Russian
interference effort but working with Manafort and allies in Ukraine to help
cover up evidence of Russia’s involvement — and spread false allegations that
it was Ukrainians who interfered instead.
Manafort was convicted of a raft of financial crimes in
August 2018 and pleaded guilty to additional crimes in August 2019, briefly
pledging to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's team before
prosecutors accused him of telling additional lies and breaking off the deal.
Manafort was sentenced to 7 and ½ years in prison but was released to home
confinement amid the coronavirus pandemic after serving 23 months.
Although Mueller’s report described Kilimnik as simply
having “ties” to Russian intelligence, the Senate panel said a more probing
analysis revealed him to be a Russian intelligence officer carrying out
Kremlin-backed influence operations abroad. In a heavily redacted section of
the report, the committee delves into its own assessment of Kilimnik,
describing an extensive body of evidence, including communications that reveal
Kilimnik misleading even close associates about his connections to Russia.
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