The Slatest

Mueller Filing Casually Implies That Trump’s Campaign Chairman Was in Touch With Active Russian Operative

Paul Manafort leaves a federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia on March 8.
Paul Manafort leaves a federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, on March 8.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Alex van der Zwaan is a very peripheral figure in Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Van der Zwaan, an attorney, has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his 2016 conversations with Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates; those conversations concerned lobbying work that van der Zwaan and Gates did in 2012 for clients in Ukraine. While Gates and his former boss, onetime Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, have been charged with a number of crimes related to their Ukraine lobbying, none of the charges seem to bear on the question of whether the Trump campaign coordinated in an illegal way with the Russian government in 2016. But a section in a new filing in van der Zwaan’s case could mean that maybe—maybe!—there’s a connection.

Previous filings have seemed to suggest that Person A is an individual named Konstantin Kilimnik. It’s been previously reported that Kilimnik worked closely with Paul Manafort in Ukraine, that he had past connections to the world of Russian intelligence, and that he and Manafort corresponded during the 2016 election. Now we’ve apparently learned that Kilimnik still had “ties” to “a Russian intelligence service” in 2016.

The small-potatoes explanation of Manafort and Gates’ behavior in 2016 is that they used their fortuitous connection to the surprisingly successful Trump campaign to squeeze some extra money out of past Ukrainian and Russian clients by dangling hyped-up promises of insight into the mind of a potential future president. (The 2016 correspondence between Manafort and Kilimnik that’s been publicly reported on involves a dispute Manafort had with a former client over money.) The, uh, big-potatoes possibility is that Manafort and Gates’ connections to Russia were the channel by which the Trump campaign promised sanctions relief in exchange for Russia’s distribution of hacked emails that were embarrassing to Hillary Clinton. While far from conclusive, Mueller’s filing keeps the more dramatic explanation in play.