The Slatest

Manafort Filing Suggests Mueller Has Evidence of Something That Starts With C and Rhymes With Schmollusion

A grinning lawyer with salt-and-pepper hair and a strong jawline walks away from a courthouse.
Kevin Downing, one of Paul Manafort’s attorneys, on Oct. 19, 2018.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Well, well, well. Well, well.

WELL, WELL, WELL.

On Tuesday, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s attorneys filed a response to the Robert Mueller–led special counsel’s office’s accusations that he lied to investigators after coming to a plea agreement. There are some sections of the filing that were redacted with black bars but which you can read by copying and re-pasting the redacted section into a new document. In those sections, Manafort’s team admits in passing that, while he was working for Trump in 2016, he shared polling data and discussed Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine with Konstantin Kilimnik. Kilimnik, in turn, is a former Manafort business partner who Mueller’s team has previously identified as someone with active ties to Russian intelligence. Verbatim:

(See, e.g., Doc. 460 at 5 (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); id. at 6 (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)). …

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 was 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. (See Doc. 460 at 6).

(N.b.: Other material in the filing makes clear that the “presidential campaign” in question was Trump’s, not a foreign campaign.)

One of the White House’s hoariest talking points as various former Trump advisers have been convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice by Mueller’s office is that none of the criminal behavior being prosecuted involved “collusion” with Russia. What we have here is evidence that, at some point during the 2016 campaign, Manafort passed on polling data and discussed a “Ukrainian peace plan” with an (alleged) Russian intelligence figure at around the time when he attended a Trump Tower meeting with other Russian operatives regarding that country’s “support” for Trump’s campaign. (A filing in a different special counsel case even says that Manafort’s business partner, Rick Gates, believed that Kilimnik had at one point worked for the GRU—the arm of Russian intelligence responsible for hacking and leaking Democratic Party emails.) Meanwhile, the campaign was adopting a suspiciously pro-Russian position on the Ukrainian civil war.

One word for collaborating with someone to give them something they want in exchange for something you want is collusion. Or as U.S. criminal law would have it, conspiracy.

As always, there’s Still A Lot We Don’t Know (TM) about this story. We don’t know why Mueller thinks Kilimnik still had “active” ties to Russian intelligence in 2016. We don’t know if Kilimnik was coordinating with the Russians who attended the Trump Tower meeting. We don’t know if Manafort was coordinating with the other Trump campaign figures who had connections to Russia. And we don’t know what Trump himself knew about what was going on.

Still! It’s bad.