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Manafort associate is Russian spy, may have helped coordinate e-mail hack-and-leak, report says

The report says Manafort associate Konstantin Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer who may have helped coordinate Russia's hack-and-leak operation.
Image: Former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort Appears In DC Federal Court For Arraignment And Status Hearing
Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign manager, exits a federal courthouse in Washington in February 2018. Drew Angerer / Getty Images file

The Senate Intelligence Committee said in a report released Tuesday that a key associate of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is a Russian intelligence officer who may have helped coordinate the Russian hacking and leaking of Democratic emails, and that Manafort himself may have had knowledge of the effort before the emails were leaked.

According to the bipartisan Senate report, Manafort associate and ex-employee Konstantin Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer who may have had links to the hack-and-leak operation of the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency, which hacked the emails of prominent Democrats and provided them to WikiLeaks.

The report includes three bulleted items that were redacted before release. The report says the redacted information "suggests that a channel for coordination on the GRU hack-and-leak operation may have existed through Kilimnik, [but] the Committee had limited insight into Kilimnik's communications with Manafort and [REDACTED], all of whom used sophisticated communications security practices."

According to the report, "On numerous occasions over the course of his time on the Trump Campaign, Manafort sought to secretly share internal Campaign information with Kilimnik," and Kilimnik was briefed by Manafort on the Trump campaign's strategy for beating Hillary Clinton.

"The Committee was unable to reliably determine why Manafort shared sensitive internal polling data or Campaign strategy with Kilimnik," the report says. The report notes that both Manafort and his then-business partner and Trump campaign official Rick Gates said the sharing of the information was an attempt to resolve past business disputes and gain new work with their former Russian and Ukranian clients.

According to the report, "Gates ultimately claimed that he did not trust Kilimnik, that he did not know why Manafort was sharing internal polling data with him, and that Kilimnik could have given the data to anyone."

Ultimately, the committee says it concluded that a significant amount of internal polling data generated by Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio made its way to Kilimink, but because of the communication methods Kilimnik employed the committee doesn't know what he then did with the data.

The committee report says Manafort had links to people who posed a "grave counterintelligence threat," but doesn't conclude whether Manafort took part in the GRU's efforts to hack the campaign. "Manafort's involvement with the GRU hack-and-leak operation is largely unknown," the report says.

The committee notes, however, that "two pieces of information ... raise the possibility of Manafort's potential connection to the hack-and-leak operations."

The report also says that the committee observed "numerous Russian-government actors from late 2016 until at least January 2020 consistently spreading overlapping false narratives which sought to discredit investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections and spread false information about the events of 2016."

Specifically, "Manafort and Kilimnik both sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election and that the 'ledger' naming payments to Manafort was fake."

The report says it was Kilimnik who "almost certainly helped arrange some of the first public messaging that Ukraine had interfered in the U.S. election." President Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani would later repeat that messaging.

The report also says Kilimnik "repeatedly tweeted information related to the Bidens and Ukraine."

Who hired Manafort?

The committee says Manafort's introduction to then-candidate Trump came in February 2016 primarily through financier Tom Barrack, a Trump friend, with additional lobbying by Trump's daughter Ivanka.

According to the report, Manafort used Barrack as the person to push his cause because Trump had a "love-hate" relationship with another long-time friend of both Manafort and Trump, Roger Stone.

Barrack's pitch, the report says, was forwarded to Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. The report says, "Ivanka Trump ultimately did share the email with her father along with a handwritten note at the bottom which read: 'Daddy, Tom says we should get Paul.'"

Ultimately, it was Manafort's willingness to work for free that sealed the deal, the committee says. "Barrack recalled that Manafort's offering to work for free 'were the magic words,'" the report says.

Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and left in August 2016 after media reports about his work in Ukraine forced his resignation. He was ultimately charged and pleaded guilty in an investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller's office, and later a federal judge determined he violating the cooperation agreement that was part of his guilty plea by lying to investigators.

According to the report in December 2016, Manafort and Kilimnik tried to conceal their continuing communications by writing draft emails that each other could see, without actually sending the e-mail, in a practice the FBI describes as "foldering."

The primary topic, the committee says, was to work on a plan for former Manafort client and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to come back to Ukraine and take control of the embattled eastern Ukraine as a proxy of the Russian government.

An attorney for Manafort did not immediately respond to a request for comment.