The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s final report on Russian election interference contains a fundamentally inaccurate claim about Paul Manafort, his attorney says, and he claims that two secret documents can prove it.
“It’s really sloppy,” attorney Kevin Downing said of the expansive Aug. 18 report.
The report makes the former Trump campaign chairman and his longtime business associate in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik, the centerpieces of a 900-plus-page report on counter-intelligence threats. Going much further than the FBI’s public assessment of Mr. Kilimnik, the Senate report flatly states the political operative “is a Russian intelligence officer.”
The truth or falsity of that designation is important. The bipartisan Senate report used it to cast unproven suspicion on President Trump’s campaign and to suggest Manafort was in cahoots with Moscow intelligence.
The special counsel report cleared him of that suggestion. The senators also call Mr. Kilimnik “central” to their overall investigation — a lofty status not found in other Trump-Russia inquiries.
Mr. Downing, who defended Manafort in two tax fraud and foreign lobbying criminal convictions, told The Washington Times that Mr. Kilimnik is not a Russian agent. Mr. Downing said that there are two government documents still under seal in the Manafort court-case file that, if declassified, would prove his point.
“These two documents if unsealed will completely refute the conjecture contained in Senate intel report regarding Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik,” Mr. Downing said.
He added, “This whole idea that he was some type of Russian intelligence officer is just total nonsense.”
For example, the report says Mr. Kilimnik “may have been connected to the GRU’s” hacking into Democratic Party computers in 2016 — the billboard Kremlin election-interference claim. The implication is that since Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik were decades-long associates, the American must have known too.
But the Senate report offers no evidence that Mr. Kilimnik was involved in hacking.
What’s more, the Senate report’s implication about Manafort is at odds with special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings, the product of nearly a three-year FBI investigation. It cleared Manafort of any collusion in Moscow election interference and doesn’t suggest Mr. Kilimnik participated in the hacking.
“It’s really sloppy,” Mr. Downing said. “You read something salacious and when you get to the facts it’s not there. This is Senate intel. They’re supposed to be the real deal. They are putting out something that looks like the Steele dossier.”
That is a reference to the discredited anti-Trump dossier by British ex-spy Christopher Steele, which was financed by the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
In addition, the FBI never sought a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to wiretap Manafort because it lacked evidence to present to a judge.
The Mueller team repeatedly interviewed Manafort and found he violated his plea agreement by misleading prosecutors on his interactions with Mr. Kilimnik. A judge agreed.
The Senate report finds much significance in this.
“Manafort’s true motive in deciding to face more severe criminal penalties rather than provide complete answers about his interactions with Kilimnik is unknown, but the result is that many interactions between Manafort and Kilimnik remain hidden,” it says.
Mr. Downing always has maintained that Manafort didn’t mislead the Mueller team.
Prosecutors alleged Manafort lied about two Kilimnik interactions: he provided internal Trump polling data to Mr. Kilimnik to give to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and his one-time employer, and to Ukraine politicians.
Manafort’s business partner told the Mueller team that Manafort shared the data to smooth over a financial dispute with the Mr. Deripaska and to win new consulting business in Ukraine by showing he was well-connected.
Prosecutors said he also lied about his involvement in Mr. Kilimnik pushing a Crimea peace plan favorable to Russia and backed by former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Moscow favorite.
The Mueller report said Manafort did not share the plan with the campaign, the candidate, or the Trump administration. There is no indication from Mr. Mueller that Manafort lied about any knowledge of Russian computer hacking.
“The office did not identify evidence of a connection between Manafort’s sharing polling data and Russia’s interference in the election, which had already been reported by the U.S. media outlets at the time of the August 2 [Manafort-Kilimnik] meeting,” the Mueller report said. “The investigation did not establish that Manafort otherwise coordinated with the Russian government on its election-interference efforts.”
During pre-trial evidence discovery, Mr. Downing asked the Mueller lawyers for any information that Mr. Manafort had Russian government contacts. Mr. Downing said they reported back that they had none.
Manafort’s business relationship with the Ukrainian-speaking Kilimnik began in 2005, more than 10 years before Mr. Trump ran for office and Manafort joined the campaign as adviser and then manager. Mr. Kilimnik began working on a peace plan in 2015, a year before Mr. Manafort joined Trump.
Manafort was told to leave in August 2016 amid negative media reports about his relationships with pro-Russia figures in Ukraine.
Mr. Downing argues that Mr. Kilimnik’s frequent consulting with the U.S. embassy in Kiev is further proof he is not an officer with the GRU, Russia’s military-intelligence branch.
The Senate report confirms that American diplomats often met with the pro-Russian consultant.
“Kilimnik was in regular contact with personnel serving in the embassy’s political section,” the report said.
After the 2014 revolution forced Mr. Yanukovych to flee Kiev, the report said, “Kilimnik’s ability to navigate the ouster of Yanukovych, and his transition to power broker within the OB [pro-Russia Opposition Bloc] made him a valuable resource to the Embassy.”
But while the report called him a “valuable resource,” it immediately downgraded the assessment by saying the State Department viewed him warily.
Overall, the Senate report portrays him negatively as a behind-the-scenes influencer, trying to plant inaccurate pro-Russian news and social media stories.
Manafort garnered millions of dollars in consulting fees in Ukraine, principally from the pro-Russian Party of Regions. Mr. Kilimnik, a Russian national who did a seven-year Army stint as a translator, ran Manafort’s Kiev office.
The FBI’s official judgement on Mr. Kilimnik is the general term that he has “ties” to Russian intelligence, a designation that is quite different than saying he is a Russian intelligence officer and official spy for the GRU.
At a February 2019 pre-sentencing hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the FBI had not presented evidence that Mr. Kilimnik was a Russia spy.
“Whether Kilimnik is tied to Russian intelligence or he’s not, I think the specific representation by the Office of Special Counsel was that he had been, quote, ‘assessed by the FBI, quote, to have a relationship with Russian intelligence,’ close quote,” Judge Jackson said at the hearing. “Whether that’s true, I have not been provided with the evidence that I would need to decide nor do I have to decide because it’s outside the scope of this hearing.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats would not go along with a pointed statement that its three-year investigation and five reports did not find a Trump-Russia conspiracy.
Republicans added this sentence to their “additional views” section: “After more than three years of investigation by this Committee, we can now say with no doubt, there was no collusion.”
Manafort was sentenced to a combined 73 months in prison on convictions of tax fraud, failing to register as a lobbyist for a foreign entity and tampering with a witness regarding his lack of registration. He was released from prison in May amid the coronavirus outbreak and is confined to home detention.