Paul Manafort was 'a grave counterintelligence threat,' Republican-led Senate panel finds – USA TODAY

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Paul Manafort has been released from a minimum security Pennsylvania prison to home confinement due to coronavirus fears. He was convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges in 2018. Video Elephant

WASHINGTON – Paul Manafort’s role as chairman of the Trump campaign, his longstanding ties to people affiliated with Russian intelligence services, and his willingness to share information with them “represented a grave counterintelligence threat” during the 2016 presidential race, according to a new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

“The Committee found that Manafort’s presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump campaign,” according to the nearly 1,000-page report released Tuesday.

The bipartisan report gives a comprehensive account of contacts between Trump campaign aides and Russian actors. It confirms the findings by former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that Russia sought to sway the 2016 race in Trump’s favor and that members of the president’s campaign were eager beneficiaries of the effort, although there was no evidence of a conspiracy with the Kremlin.

READ IT YOURSELF:The 966-page report from the Senate Intelligence Committee

Manafort was released to home confinement in May due to the risk posed by the spread of the coronavirus in federal prison after being sentenced to a combined sentence of just more than seven years.

The heavily redacted report, released just three months before the presidential election, is the final installment from the Republican-led committee’s three-year probe into Russian election meddling.

Steele dossier

The report also provides an unflattering look of the FBI, which the committee said gave “unjustified credence” on the findings of a former British intelligence officer, or the so-called Steele dossier, as it sought court approvals to wiretap former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. A separate report by the Justice Department’s inspector general found several errors and misstatements in applications to wiretap Page, although it concluded that the broader Russia investigation was legitimate.

“We can say, without any hesitation, that the Committee found absolutely no evidence that then-candidate Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government to meddle in the 2016 election,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida and the committee’s acting chairman, said. “What the Committee did find, however, is very troubling. We found irrefutable evidence of Russian meddling. And we discovered deeply troubling actions taken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, particularly their acceptance and willingness to rely on the ‘Steele Dossier’ without verifying its methodology or sourcing.”

Kilimnik, ‘a Russian intelligence officer’

Democrats highlighted findings about Trump campaign officials contacts with Russian actors. Sen. Mark Werner, D-Virginia and the committee’s vice chairman, said the “breathtaking level of contacts between Trump officials and Russian government operatives” is a “very real counterintelligence threat to our elections.”

The report delves deeply into Manafort’s ties with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime business associate with whom Manafort worked as part of his lobbying efforts in Ukraine and Russia. While Mueller’s investigators described Kilimnik as someone with ties to Russian intelligence, the committee called Kilimnik “a Russian intelligence officer,” with whom Manafort “sought to secretly share”  sensitive internal polling data from the Trump campaign. The committee, however, was unable to determine why Manafort did so, or with whom Kilimnik shared the information.

Paul Manafort sentenced prison: ‘It is hard to overstate the number of lies’

During and after the 2016 election, Manafort and Kilimnik spoke and met multiple times. The two talked about strategies to defeat Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, according to the report, citing a conversation Kilimnik had with an associate in which he said Manafort had a “clever plan of screwing Clinton.” The two also talked about how Trump might win, the report said, noting that Manafort expected Kilimnik to share the information to people in Ukraine and elsewhere.

The report said Kilimnik sought to leverage his relationship with Manafort and use him to influence the Trump administration and the Russian government “to effect a certain political outcome.”

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The committee also said Kilimnik may have been tied to the Russian intelligence hack and leak operations during the 2016 election. The committee said it had obtained information suggesting that Kilimnik may have been the channel for Russian intelligence officials to coordinate the hacking operation, although it acknowledged its evidence is limited.

Manafort is one of half a dozen former Trump aides and associates who were indicted as the Mueller investigation. His ties to Kilimnik shadowed much of the special counsel’s investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager. 

The Senate panel’s findings on Manafort and Kilimnik mirrored some of those in Mueller’s report.

Manafort had told Mueller’s investigators that he did not believe that his longtime associate was also working as a Russian spy. “The FBI, however, assesses that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence,” according to Mueller’s report, citing witness interviews, seized emails and other evidence obtained in search warrants. Mueller’s team also noted that Manafort partner, Rick Gates, also had suspected that Kilimnik was a “spy,” and shared that assessment with Manafort.

According to Mueller’s investigation, Gates said Manafort instructed him sometime between April or early May of 2016 to “send Kilimnik campaign internal polling data and other updates so that Kilimnik, in turn, could share it with Ukrainian oligarchs.” Gates told Mueller’s investigators that he did not know why Manafort wanted him to share the polling data, but Gates thought it was a way to showcase Manafort’s work, and Manafort wanted to open doors to jobs after the Trump Campaign ended.”

In one of two meetings with Kilimnik during his tenure as Trump campaign chairman, “Manafort briefed Kilimnik on the state of the Trump Campaign and Manafort’s plan to win the election,” the Mueller report concluded. “That briefing encompassed the campaign’s messaging and its internal polling data. According to Gates, it also included discussion of ‘battleground’ states, which Manafort identified as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota.”

Early last year, a federal judge found that Manafort had lied repeatedly to federal prosecutors about his contacts with Kilimnik, ultimately upending a plea agreement Manafort had struck with Mueller’s team. Among the contested exchanges, prosecutors asserted that Manafort lied about having provided polling data to Kilimnik.

In 2018, Manafort and Kilimnik were charged together with attempting to obstruct Mueller’s investigation by seeking to block the testimony of at least two witnesses.

The case prompted a judge to revoke Manafort’s bail and order him to jail to await separate trials on a slew of financial fraud charges in Alexandria, Virginia and Washington, D.C., where he was ultimately convicted. 

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