The Slatest

By the Way, Trump’s Favorite Ukrainian Prosecutor Helped a Key Witness Flee the Mueller Investigation

Manafort, wearing a prison jumpsuit, walks down a hallway while surrounded by security officers and men in suits.
Paul Manafort in court in New York City on June 27. Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Remember Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation? No, wait, hang on. Yes, all that stuff—about the evidence, or unavailability of evidence, of overt collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia—was complicated and muddled and did not make swing voters want to remove the president from office, unlike the poll-shifting news coming out of the Ukraine impeachment investigation. But! The Ukraine case also has the chance to clear up an important—and possibly very criminal—part of the Russia business.

Hear me out: In the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that has become impeachment’s central text, Trump asked Zelensky to reinstate his country’s former prosecutor general, Yuri Lutsenko. In the impeachment part of our story, Trump wanted Lutsenko back in office because Lutsenko had been meeting with Rudy Giuliani to discuss a smear campaign against Joe Biden and to indulge Giuliani and Trump’s (ludicrous, non-evidence-based) belief that Ukrainian officials collaborated with the Democratic National Committee in 2016 to frame Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for the fraud charges for which he was later convicted by a U.S. jury.

But Lutsenko had also played a crucial role in the Mueller investigation itself, in an episode that also involved Manafort.

According to the special counsel, Manafort provided Trump campaign polling information to Konstantin Kilimnik—a former business partner who, Mueller’s lawyers wrote in court filings, “has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.” The intelligence service in question was the GRU, which is the same service that hacked and distributed Democratic emails during the campaign.

The special counsel was not, however, able to learn why Manafort had given Kilimnik the polling data, or what Kilimnik had done with it—mainly because investigators couldn’t get ahold of Kilimnik to ask about it. Although Ukraine had agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, Lutsenko allowed Kilimnik to leave the country for Russia without answering questions. Ultimately, Mueller concluded that his office “could not reliably determine Manafort’s purpose in sharing internal polling data with Kilimnik during the campaign period,” blaming its “limited ability to gather evidence on what happened to the polling data after it was sent to Kilimnik.”

Lutsenko’s involvement in hiding Kilimnik is not a conspiracy theory: It’s something that the New York Times reported on aspects of when it happened and that has reportedly been confirmed in internal State Department documents. Here is the Times, in May 2018:

In another move seeming to hinder Mr. Mueller’s investigation, Ukrainian law enforcement allowed a potential witness to possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to leave for Russia, putting him out of reach for questioning.

The special counsel’s office has identified the man, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, Mr. Manafort’s former office manager in Kiev, as tied to a Russian intelligence agency. Mr. Kilimnik was also under investigation in Ukraine over espionage, but no charges were filed before he left the country, sometime after June.

And here is a new report in the New York Review of Books by investigative journalist Murray Waas:

A classified State Department assessment concluded in 2018 that Ukraine’s former Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko—who is at the center of the impeachment inquiry of President Trump—had allowed a vital potential witness for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Konstantin Kilimnik, to escape from Ukraine to Russia, beyond the reach of the United States, after a federal grand jury in the US charged Kilimnik with obstruction of justice.

Kilmnik, who had “ties” to the agency that led the attack against the Clinton campaign, received proprietary information from Trump’s campaign chairman. Lutsenko made sure he wouldn’t ever have to answer law enforcement questions about the situation. Later, Trump called the president of Ukraine and told him Lutsenko was great and needed to be rehired.

Maybe someone should look into this?