The Treasury Department announced sanctions against Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, assessing he is a Russian intelligence services agent who provided Kremlin spies with “sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy” during the 2016 presidential race.
The revelation came as the Biden administration announced sanctions against Russia, “actions to hold the Russian Government to account for the SolarWinds intrusion, reports of bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and attempts to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections,” according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The 50-year-old Kilimnik was labeled “a Russian and Ukrainian political consultant and known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf” by the Treasury Department, which said he “sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election” and noted he was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice regarding unregistered lobbying work by former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in 2018. Kilimnik also “sought to assist” former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of the Kremlin who has also been designated by the United States, and argued that, at Yanukovych’s direction, Kilimnik “sought to institute a plan that would return Yanukovych to power in Ukraine,” the agency added.
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $250,000 for information leading to Kilimnik’s arrest.
Manafort, a GOP lobbyist who also spent years working in Ukraine, was the chairman of former President Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign until he resigned in August 2016 and was convicted of a host of crimes arising from Mueller’s investigation. A Senate Intelligence Committee report criticized Manafort's close relationships with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin) and with Kilimnik, about whom Mueller said, “The FBI assesses to have ties to Russian intelligence.”
The Senate report, released in August, said Manafort’s connections to Russia and Ukraine began in 2004, when he started working for Deripaska, concluding that “the Russian government coordinates with and directs Deripaska on many of his influence operations.” The committee determined that Kilimnik “is a Russian intelligence officer.” During the 2016 election, Manafort “directly and indirectly communicated with Kilimnik, Deripaska, and the pro-Russian oligarchs in Ukraine,” and “on numerous occasions, Manafort sought to secretly share internal Campaign information with Kilimnik,” Senate investigators wrote.
Still, “the Committee was unable to reliably determine why Manafort shared sensitive internal polling data or Campaign strategy with Kilimnik or with whom Kilimnik further shared that information,” the Senate report said. The Treasury Department did not directly name Manafort.
The senators also claimed they “obtained some information suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected to the GRU's hack and leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election.”
Mueller’s report said that in August 2016, Manafort and Kilimnik “discussed the status of the Trump Campaign and Manafort’s strategy for winning Democratic votes in Midwestern states” and that “months before that meeting, Manafort had caused internal polling data to be shared with Kilimnik, and the sharing continued for some period of time after their August meeting.”
“Manafort instructed Rick Gates, his deputy on the Campaign and a longtime employee, to provide Kilimnik with updates on the Trump Campaign — including internal polling data, although Manafort claims not to recall that specific instruction,” Mueller’s report added. “Manafort expected Kilimnik to share that information with others in Ukraine and with Deripaska.”
The Treasury Department said Kilimnik was designated “for having engaged in foreign interference in the U.S. 2020 presidential election,” while Yanukovych, who is currently in exile in Russia, was designated in 2014 “for his role in violating Ukrainian sovereignty.”
The Senate investigation found that “beginning while he was Campaign chairman and continuing until at least 2018, Manafort discussed with Kilimnik a peace plan for eastern Ukraine that benefited the Kremlin.” And “after the election, Manafort continued to coordinate with Russian persons, particularly Kilimnik and other individuals close to Deripaska, in an effort to undertake activities on their behalf,” the report said.
“The Committee found that Manafort's presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for the Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign,” the Senate report concluded, adding that “Manafort's high-level access and willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services, particularly Kilimnik, represented a grave counterintelligence threat.”
The Senate report found “the Russian government coordinates with and directs Deripaska on many of his influence operations.”
British ex-spy Christopher Steele was working for Deripaska in the lead-up to 2016, helping recover millions of dollars the oligarch claimed Manafort had stolen from him when the Republican operative worked for him. Steele sought help in the money recovery effort from Fusion GPS, which hired Steele to conduct anti-Trump research soon after.
The Senate report revealed Steele started working on behalf of Deripaska through the Russian oligarch’s lawyers beginning as early as 2012 through part of 2017. The investigation found “indications that Deripaska had early knowledge of Steele's work” just a few months before he began compiling his now-discredited dossier. Steele’s continued relationship with Deripaska “provided a potential direct channel for Russian influence on the dossier,” the report said.
Mueller’s investigation concluded that the Russian government interfered in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” and also “identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign” but “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December report criticized the Justice Department and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page and for the bureau's reliance on the Democratic-funded discredited dossier compiled by Steele.
Manafort was released from prison last May amid the coronavirus pandemic, and Trump issued him a pardon just before Christmas.
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