If true, it makes this week’s big and unintentional reveal in the Paul Manafort case more of a curiosity rather than a major development. “If” is still the question, but Donald Trump insisted earlier today that he had no knowledge of Manafort’s contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik or passing along polling data to the suspected Russian intelligence figure:
President Trump said Thursday that he knew nothing about his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, allegedly sharing 2016 presidential campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate the FBI has said has ties to Russian intelligence.
That information was included in a court filing this week that appeared to inadvertently include details not intended to be made public and indicates a pathway by which the Russians could have had access to Trump campaign data.
“No I didn’t know anything about it,” Trump said in response to a question from a reporter as he departed the White House en route to Texas, where he is visiting the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump did not elaborate and turned to another reporter with a question on a different topic.
How much more elaboration could there be if Trump’s response is that he “didn’t know anything about it”? A complete denial pretty much ends the conversation, at least until some evidence emerges to the contrary.
That’s the question, of course — will Manafort testify that Trump did know about it? Since Robert Mueller made this a sticking point in seeking to overturn Manafort’s plea deal, the answer thus far seems to be no. That could change, assuming that Trump’s lying about this, but Mueller wouldn’t have put this much effort into publicly undermining Manafort’s credibility as a witness if that was a likely possibility. Don’t forget that the Kilimnik connection isn’t at all new — it’s been known for almost the length of the Mueller probe, to which we’ll return shortly. What is new is that Mueller thinks that Manafort is still lying about it.
It doesn’t make much sense that Trump would be involved in that kind of transaction anyway. We know from Mueller’s indictments that Manafort found himself in debt to his partners in Russia and Ukraine from his earlier business dealings. Manafort might have tried selling some inside data to his partners (of whom Kilimnik is certainly a major one) to “get whole,” as was reported over a year ago by the New York Times. That would have been of no benefit at all to Trump or the campaign, unless as part of a quid pro quo, but the data itself would have been of curious value anyway. It sounds more like a teaser from Manafort to sell himself as the ultimate inside source, as the offer for “private briefings” to Oleg Deripaska seems to have been. Perhaps Manafort saw the opportunity to pay off some of those loans through “consulting,” or maybe through even less savory actions.
On the other hand, Manafort’s not the only person alleged to have stayed in contact with Kilimnik. His US partner Rick Gates has reportedly admitted to keeping up communications with the Russian while working on the Trump campaign. Mueller’s not seeking to overturn Gates’ plea deal, which means that he’s finding Gates more cooperative — and likely on this particular point, too. Maybe Gates was in a hole with Russian interests too, or maybe he had other reasons to keep in contact. However it works out, though, what we know of the filing still leaves a lot of room for Trump to have had no involvement with a Manafort-Gates-Kilimnik pipeline. So far.
Addendum: Does the Mueller magical mystery subpoena relate to this issue? The Supreme Court took a pass on intervening on Tuesday, which means the daily contempt fines have begun adding up again. If Mueller’s concentrating on financial transactions between Kilimnik and Manafort, it might result in a stonewall effort by a financial institution involved in it. The timing of Mueller’s filing on Kilimnik and the subpoena might be coincidental … or not. Stay tuned.