Mueller Draws Line to Russian Spy’s Work With Manafort and Gates

(Bloomberg) -- Konstantin Kilimnik’s name has surfaced many times in the 2016 election drama. The Russian national was a longtime fixer in Ukraine for lobbyists Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. He was a conduit between a Russian oligarch and Manafort, who was Donald Trump’s campaign chairman. He communicated with Gates just ahead of the presidential vote. A year later, he traded emails with a freshly indicted Manafort.

Now, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has fleshed out another detail. Gates said he knew Kilimnik was a onetime Russian military intelligence officer, according to a Tuesday court filing. The FBI is even more direct: Agents believe he has “ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016,” according to the filing.

Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the U.S. election, is preparing for the sentencing next week of an attorney who lied to investigators about talks with Kilimnik. Prosecutors haven’t charged Kilimnik, who has been connected previously in news reports to Russian intelligence. But by making that connection himself in a court filing, Mueller signaled he may view Kilimnik as a potential channel between Russian intelligence and officials on Trump’s presidential campaign.

Mueller’s latest filing doesn’t identify Kilimnik by name, referring to him instead as Person A. The description of Person A -- a resident of Moscow and Kiev who helped Gates and Manafort in Ukraine -- matches Kilimnik. In an interview several weeks ago, Kilimnik said he couldn’t say whether he is the person referred to in Mueller’s filings.

Manafort continued to communicate with Kilimnik as recently as November 2017, a month after Manafort was accused of money laundering and working as an unregistered agent for Ukraine. In a Dec. 8 filing, Mueller said Manafort and Kilimnik had been in contact just days earlier. The two had been exchanging editing notes on an op-ed piece about Manafort’s Ukraine work that would appear, under the name of a Ukrainian former official, in a Kiev newspaper.

That filing, which referred to Kilimnik by name, sent a clear message: Mueller’s team had kept nearly real-time tabs on Manafort’s communications with the Russian.

While it’s unclear where Mueller may go with such information, it’s unlikely he’s shown all his cards. Mueller, in his latest filing, suggested that he has independently obtained communications involving the Russian. Mueller’s team has also secured a guilty plea and cooperation from Gates, who worked for years with Kilimnik and then held positions with the Trump campaign and inauguration.

Point of Contact

Kilimnik worked for years in Ukraine with Manafort and Gates, who did political consulting that helped get Viktor Yanukovych elected as president. Kilimnik was also a point of contact to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who is close to President Vladimir Putin.

Manafort’s work in Ukraine dried up after Yanukovych was ousted. In July 2016, with Trump closing in on the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, Manafort emailed Kilimnik with an offer: Manafort could provide private briefings to a mutual associate about the Trump campaign. That associate, people familiar with the matter said, was Deripaska.

Manafort once did consulting work for Deripaska’s businesses. The men had a falling out over $18.9 million that Deripaska invested with Manafort in a Ukrainian cable television venture in 2007. The venture failed, leading to litigation, including a lawsuit that Deripaska filed in January claiming Manafort and Gates defrauded him.

“I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?” Manafort wrote in the email to Kilimnik, according to an email obtained by the Atlantic. “How do we use to get whole?"

That meeting never took place, the people familiar with the matter said. A spokeswoman for Deripaska has said he had “no communications, meetings, briefings or other interactions with Mr. Manafort during, after, or in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.”

Lobbying Campaign

The subject of Gates and Kilimnik arose Tuesday in a court filing ahead of the sentencing of Alex van der Zwaan, a former associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a prominent U.S.-based law firm.

Van der Zwaan helped produce a report that Skadden wrote in 2012 that largely defended the prosecution and conviction of the country’s former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. The report defied the view held by the U.S. and the European Union that the case against her was politically motivated. At the time, Manafort and Gates were coordinating an extensive lobbying campaign in the U.S. to benefit Yanukovych.

Both Gates and van der Zwaan have pleaded guilty as part of Mueller’s investigation. Van der Zwaan admitted he lied to U.S. authorities about contacts he had with Gates and the Russian.

The case is U.S. v. van der Zwaan, 18-cr-00031, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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