Donald Trump and his campaign manager Paul Manafort at the Republican National Convention, July 21, 2016
Donald Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort shared political polling data with a business associate linked to Russian intelligence, according to a court filing.
Manafort’s lawyers filed the document over the sentencing of their client on tax and fraud charges. They were responding to the assertion by the team of Special Counsel Robert Mueller that Manafort lied to prosecutors after agreeing to cooperate with the Trump-Russia investigation.
But a formatting error accidentally disclosed
the claims of prosecutors that Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, a former Russian military intelligence officer, discussed the provision of polling data. They also spoke a plan for political resolution in Ukraine, where Russia had annexed Crimea in 2014 and encouraged separatists in the east of the country.
Throughout the campaign and the early days of the Trump Administration, Russia put forth initiatives in the hope of getting relief from US-led sanctions imposed after the annexation of Crimea.
Both Manafort and Rick Gates, his top aide and the deputy campaign manager, transferred the polling data to Kilimnik spring 2016, “according to a person knowledgeable about the situation”. The source said most of the data was public but some was developed by a private polling firm working for the Trump campaign.
Manafort asked Gates to tell Kilimnik to pass the data to Serhiy Lyovochikin, the former head of the adminstration of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and Ukrainian businessman Rinat Akhmetov, a backer of Yanukovych’s People’s Party.
Kilimnik is also linked with Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska, to whom Manafort reportedly owed millions of dollars from a failed business venture.
In July 2016, after Manafort became campaign manager, he e-mailed Kilimnik that he could provide campaign “briefings” to Deripaska.
Victor Boyarkin, an associate of Deripaska, said last month that he was in contact with Manafort during the campaign: “He owed us a lot of money. And he was offering ways to pay it back.”
The document did not indicate if Trump was aware of the polling data transfer or how Kilimnik might have used the information. The information could conceivably have helped Russian influence operations on social media, amid the hacking of computers linked to the Hillary Clinton campaign and the dissemination of anti-Clinton material by WikiLeaks.
In August 2016, just before Manafort was dismissed from the campaign over his financial issues, he and Kilimnik discuss a plan for Ukraine which reportedly would have involved bringing back Yanukovych, forced from office by mass protests in February 2014.
The two men continued the discussion in several meetings through early 2017, including contact in Spain:
After being shown documents, Mr. Manafort “conceded” that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Mr. Kilimnik on more than one occasion….
After being told that Mr. Kilimnik had traveled to Madrid on the same day that Mr. Manafort was in Madrid, Mr. Manafort “acknowledged” that he and Mr. Kilimnik met while they were both in Madrid.
It was called the Mariupol peace plan, Kilimnik told me. And as I reported two years ago, it envisaged Yanukovych returning to govern Russia/separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine: https://t.co/FvuJhiDYvv https://t.co/fv66m9zCnj
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) January 9, 2019
At the same time, Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Artemenko — working with Trump business associate Felix Sater and Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen — delivered a Ukraine “peace plan” to the White House, reaching National Security Advisor Michael Flynn just before he was forced to resign in February 2017 over his contacts with Russian Ambasssador Sergey Kislyak.
Kilimnik faces charges by Mueller team of tampering with witnesses who had information about Manafort, but it is unlikely that the former intelligence officer will ever leave Russia to face a trial.
Lawyer Veselnitskaya Indicted — “Working With Kremlin”
In another Trump-Russia development, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice.
Veselnitskaya was one of three Kremlin-linked envoys who met top Trump advisors in June 2016 in Trump Tower with the offer of anti-Clinton documents.
Donald Trump Jr. welcomed the meeting with the possible provision of the material — “I love it!” — and Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner attended.
After the revelation in 2017 of the meeting, the Trump camp denied that any matter of consequence was raised. But before that denial, Donald Trump Sr. dictated the false statement of his son that the encounter was about “adoptions”, a possible obstruction of justice under investigation by Mueller’s team.
Veselnitskaya was charged on Tuesday with obstruction of justice, over her alleged pretence to a federal judge that she was a private defense lawyer when in fact she was working with the Russian Government.
The lawyer allegedly tried to thwart an investigation into money laundering that involved an influential Russian businessman and his investment firm.