Did Robert Mueller intend to mislead the Department of Justice in his report? The Hill’s John Solomon hears from multiple sources that a man closely connected to Paul Manafort was not just someone with “ties to Russian intelligence.” Konstantin Kilimnik also had long-standing ties to US State Department intelligence, a point Mueller never raises when portraying Kilimnik connections as uniformly suspicious:
The incomplete portrayal of Kilimnik is so important to Mueller’s overall narrative that it is raised in the opening of his report. “The FBI assesses” Kilimnik “to have ties to Russian intelligence,” Mueller’s team wrote on Page 6, putting a sinister light on every contact Kilimnik had with Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman.
What it doesn’t state is that Kilimnik was a “sensitive” intelligence source for State going back to at least 2013 while he was still working for Manafort, according to FBI and State Department memos I reviewed.
Kilimnik was not just any run-of-the-mill source, either.
He interacted with the chief political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, sometimes meeting several times a week to provide information on the Ukraine government. He relayed messages back to Ukraine’s leaders and delivered written reports to U.S. officials via emails that stretched on for thousands of words, the memos show.
Kilimnik was so valuable that State brought him to the US in 2016, a visit that apparently tripped no alarms despite Mueller’s assessment of his Russia-intel ties. The FBI knew well of Kilimnik’s value to State Department intelligence, Solomon writes, and Mueller knew it too:
Three sources with direct knowledge of the inner workings of Mueller’s office confirmed to me that the special prosecutor’s team had all of the FBI interviews with State officials, as well as Kilimnik’s intelligence reports to the U.S. Embassy, well before they portrayed him as a Russian sympathizer tied to Moscow intelligence or charged Kilimnik with participating with Manafort in a scheme to obstruct the Russia investigation.
This meeting in 2016 — with the Obama administration’s State Department — matters to the context of Mueller’s accusations. This is the first mention of Kilimnik in the report, in which Mueller alleges that he and Manafort conspired to cut a back deal with Russia and Trump:
Separately, on August 2, 2016, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met in New York City with his long-time business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who the FBI assesses to have ties to Russian intelligence. Kilimnik requested the meeting to deliver in person a peace plan for Ukraine that Manafort acknowledged to the Special Counsel’s Office was a “backdoor” way for Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine; both men believed the plan would require candidate Trump’s assent to succeed (were he to be elected President).
What Mueller left out, Solomon writes, was that Kilimnik also presented the plan to the Obama administration:
But State emails showed Kilimnik first delivered a version of his peace plan in May 2016 to the Obama administration during a visit to Washington. Kasanof, his former handler at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, had been promoted to a top policy position at State, and the two met for dinner on May 5, 2016.
The day after the dinner, Kilimnik sent an email to Kasanof’s official State email address recounting the peace plan they had discussed the night before.
It’s certainly possible to view the two efforts differently. In the first, Kilimnik was working through official US channels, and in the second trying to work around them, presumably out of frustration with the failure of the first attempt. Still, all of that missing context from Mueller’s report — which Solomon calls “deception by omission” — makes the second attempt look and sound like a Russian-intel operation to penetrate the Trump campaign. Which, of course, might still be the case — but then it would also be a Russian-intel operation to penetrate the Obama-era State Department. And that theoretical operation would have been more successful than Kilimnik was in getting to Trump, too.
This raises another question. If the purpose of the special counsel probe was to determine the extent of Russian interference, why wasn’t Kilimnik’s contacts with the State Department included along with his contacts with Manafort? That’s an especially important question if we accept the report’s assessment of Kilimnik as a Russian agent. Weren’t his manipulations of State personnel much more problematic in terms of potential Russian interference overall than Kilimnik’s contacts with Manafort?
Worth noting, too — The New York Times had reported in February on Kilimnik’s coziness with State officials during that same period:
Dozens of interviews, court filings and other documents show Mr. Kilimnik to be an operator who moved easily between Russian, Ukrainian and American patrons, playing one off the other while leaving a jumble of conflicting suspicions in his wake. The effort to disentangle the mysteries surrounding him seems likely to leave questions even after the conclusion of the special counsel’s work.
To American diplomats in Washington and Kiev, he has been a well-known character for nearly a decade, developing a reputation as a broker of valuable information like the alliances of Ukraine’s oligarchs and the country’s handling of foreign investment and sensitive criminal cases.
He traveled freely to the United States, and on a trip in May 2016 met senior State Department officials for drinks at the Off the Record bar in the basement of the Hay-Adams hotel across from the White House. Later that year, he visited with the new United States ambassador to Ukraine in Kiev.
So it’s not as though Kilimnik’s connections were some kind of deep secret. Nor did Mueller supply them in passaged redacted for national security. Instead, Mueller just didn’t bother mentioning all of that context — a point the NYT makes about his indictment and their mentions of Kilimnik, too.
If this was the only potential “deception by omission” in the Mueller report, we might shrug it off. However, after the deceptive omissions in the John Dowd voicemail that were used to construct a potential obstruction charge, it’s beginning to look like a potential pattern from Mueller and his team. Dowd himself predicted that we’d find more such deceptions by omission. Solomon may well have found the next one.