This Is What Collusion Looks Like: Paul Manafort (Reprise)
The indictment of FBI executive Charles McGonigal prompts a review of another indicted American with ties to Oleg Deripaska: former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.
On August 28, 2020, ten days after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released Volume 5 of its report on Russian active measures campaigns and interference in the 2016 election, I published a piece that summarized the SSCI’s incendiary findings on Paul Manafort. At the time, Trump’s erstwhile campaign chairman was serving a lengthy prison term at the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Pennsylvania.
Manafort was supposed to be in prison until Christmas Day, 2024. But in the two and a half years since my piece ran, several Manafort-related things have come to pass:
On May 13, 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Manafort was granted release to home confinement over concerns that he might catch covid-19 in prison.
In the last days of his failed administration, on December 23, 2020, Donald John Trump granted Manafort a full pardon—an egregious perversion of presidential power. (This wound up being an expensive decision, as Manafort was allowed to keep whatever of his ill-gained assets that the government had not yet seized.)
On February 24, 2022, Putin’s Russia, unable to sufficiently corrupt the Kyiv government, invaded Ukraine, Manafort’s old stomping grounds.
On January 23, 2023—1/23/23—Charles McGonigal, the former Special Agent in Charge of FBI counterintelligence efforts in the New York Office, was indicted for “violat[ing] sanctions imposed by the United States on Oleg Deripaska,” as the unsealed indictment alleges. Deripaska, a Russian mega-oligarch and Putin crony, was Manafort’s former employer, to whom he owed millions of dollars. That begs the question: What relationship, if any, does Manafort have to McGonigal?
In light of these new developments—especially the McGonigal indictment—it is instructive to review what we already know. Today, then, I am re-running my piece from August of 2020:
This is What Collusion Looks Like: Paul Manafort
August 28, 2020
LAST WEEK, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released Volume 5 of its report on Russian active measures campaigns and interference in the 2016 election, which presented its findings on counterintelligence threats and vulnerabilities.
While well-written and easy to follow, Volume 5 is almost 1000 pages long, with voluminous footnotes and ample redactions. Throw in the torrent of news last week, the requisite Republican gaslighting, and the Don-Junior-on-his-third-line-of-coke attention span of the national news media, and it’s no great surprise that what should have been a bombshell was more of a dud—even though the Committee, in its wisdom, helpfully placed its key finding right up front:
The Committee found that the Russian government engaged in an aggressive, multifaceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
Read it again: Russian government. Aggressive. Multifaceted.
This is not just a bunch of Democrats making this claim. The Committee is bipartisan. Even dyed-in-the-wool Trumpist collaborators like Tom Cotton and John Cornyn were compelled to sign off on this.
The Report stops short of explicitly accusing the Trump campaign of reciprocity—of taking an active role in embracing the aid that Russia bestowed. Even so, most of the Republicans on the Committee—Senators Risch, Rubio, Blunt, Cotton, Cornyn, and Sasse—felt the need to add this addendum to the report (italics and boldface in original text):
Volume 5 exhaustively reviews the counterintelligence threats and vulnerabilities to the 2016 election, but never explicitly states the critical fact: the Committee found no evidence that then-candidate Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government in its efforts to meddle in the election.
Note that this addendum was not signed by Richard Burr, the then-chair of the Committee. Note also that Burr was removed from that post by his fellow Republicans—and put under investigation by the FBI for alleged insider trading—almost immediately after he completed the Report. This suggests a major disagreement between Senator Burr and Senators Risch, Rubio, Blunt, Cotton, Cornyn, and Sasse.
Make no mistake: The GOP addendum, with its use of the vague, non-legal term colluded, exists so that Trump can continue using his NO COLLUSION rallying cry unabated. Here is the mendacious Marco Rubio, now the chair of the Committee, and looking much like a wan prisoner in a hostage video, desperately trying to throw the national media off the treasonous scent:
But the fact is, the Committee did find that Paul Manafort—the chair of the Trump campaign from May through August of 2016, and a key adviser before and after that period—coordinated his efforts with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian intelligence officer who specializes in election meddling, as well as with his estranged client, the mega-oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Indeed, the very first section of Volume 5 concerns Manafort’s deep, long-standing, and unequivocal ties to Kremlin operatives—relationships that continued throughout 2016.
Let me say this again: in 2016, the chair of the Trump campaign worked closely with a Kremlin election saboteur—covertly sending him polling data.
Not a coffee boy: the chair of the campaign. The guy in charge. Working with a Russian spy. And not just any spy: One who specializes in election fuckery.
While Senators Risch, Rubio, Blunt, Cotton, Cornyn, and Sasse may have found “no evidence” that the Trump campaign “colluded,” they found ample evidence that the chair of that campaign coordinated, conspired with, worked with, sought advice from, and otherwise got help from Russians with close ties to Vladimir Putin.
Cooperation is the word the Democrats on the Committee—Senators Heinrich, Feinstein, Wyden, Harris, and Bennet—employ, in their addendum. (I recommend imaging this part read in Kamala Harris’ “You’ve been a bad boy, Bill Barr” voice:)
The Committee’s bipartisan Report unambiguously shows that members of the Trump Campaign cooperated with Russian efforts to get Trump elected. It recounts efforts by Trump and his team to obtain dirt on their opponent from operatives acting on behalf of the Russian government. It reveals the extraordinary lengths by which Trump and his associates actively sought to enable the Russian interference operation by amplifying its electoral impact and rewarding its perpetrators—even after being warned of its Russian origins. And it presents, for the first time, concerning evidence that the head of the Trump Campaign was directly connected to the Russian meddling through his communications with an individual found to be a Russian intelligence officer.
These are stubborn facts that cannot be ignored. They build on the Committee's bipartisan findings in Volume 2 and Volume 4 that show an extensive Kremlin-directed effort to covertly help candidate Trump in 2016, and they speak to a willingness by a major party candidate and his associates, in the face of a foreign adversary’s assault on the political integrity of the United States, to welcome that foreign threat in exchange for advancing their own self-interest.
But, yeah, sure, no collusion; weird flex, but okay. The Democrats continue (italics in the original text):
The Committee’s bipartisan Report found that Paul Manafort, while he was Chairman of the Trump Campaign, was secretly communicating with a Russian intelligence officer with whom he discussed Campaign strategy and repeatedly shared internal Campaign polling data. This took place while the Russian intelligence operation to assist Trump was ongoing. Further, Manafort took steps to hide these communications and repeatedly lied to federal investigators, and his deputy on the Campaign destroyed evidence of communications with the Russian intelligence officer. The Committee obtained some information suggesting that the Russian intelligence officer, with whom Manafort had a longstanding relationship, may have been connected to the GRU’s hack-and-leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election. This is what collusion looks like.
This is what collusion looks like! Why wasn’t THAT the headline in the New York Times?
If one takes the time to read the parts of Volume 5 that concern Paul Manafort, one sees that the summary provided by the Democrats on the Committee is, to paraphrase Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny, dead-on-balls accurate. The document goes into great detail about the seditious shit Manafort pulled and how he pulled it. The GOP Senators are hiding behind the word colluded, just as Bill Clinton once hid behind the term sexual relations, but there is zero ambiguity here. Manafort as campaign chair worked in concert with an enemy intelligence officer to sabotage the election…and then, just in case there was any doubt whose side he was on, he lied about it to federal prosecutors.
What Volume 5 does not provide, alas, is context. The Report doesn’t describe how tight Paul Manafort and Donald Trump were—and had been, for decades. Manafort was business partners with Roger Stone, Trump’s long-time friend and political adviser. He had an apartment in Trump Tower. Before he was brought into the campaign, Ivanka Trump referred to him simply as “Paul.” He was also close with the shady businessman Tom Barrack, the mutual friend who reportedly suggested to Trump that he take Manafort on.This wasn’t some stranger, Walter Kurtz’s errand boy sent by grocery clerks. This was a mover and shaker with deep ties to Russian organized crime, living in Trump Tower, where lots of other mobbed-up folks lived, and who was chummy with that building’s developer, who was himself a fully owned asset of the Russian mob.
It’s not like Trump, or anyone around him, was unaware of who Manafort was, or vice versa. All eyes were wide open.
There is much more in the Report besides the sins of Paul Manafort, but for now, let us confine ourselves exclusively to the former Trump campaign chair. The bipartisan Report explains that
Paul Manafort is a former lobbyist and political consultant with ties to numerous foreign politicians and businessmen, most notably in Russia and Ukraine. In March 2016, Manafort joined the Trump Campaign as convention manager. By May 2016, then-Candidate Trump officially elevated Manafort to be the Campaign's chairman and chief strategist. On August 19, 2016, following press articles related to his past work in Ukraine for a pro-Russia political party headed by former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Manafort resigned from the Trump Campaign.
Manafort had direct access to Trump and his Campaign's senior officials, strategies, and information. During the campaign, Manafort worked closely with his long-time deputy, Rick Gates, who had similar access to Campaign personnel and information.
While serving on the Trump Campaign, Manafort, often with the assistance of Gates, engaged with individuals inside Russia and Ukraine on matters pertaining to both his personal business prospects and the 2016 U.S. presidential election…
Manafort’s connections to Russia and Ukraine began in approximately 2004. At that time, Manafort and his political consulting firm began work for Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch. Deripaska conducts influence operations, frequently in countries where he has a significant economic interest. The Russian government coordinates with and directs Deripaska on many of his influence operations. From approximately 2004 to 2009, Manafort implemented these influence operations on behalf of Deripaska, including on a broad, multi-million dollar political influence campaign directed at numerous countries of interest to Deripaska and the Russian government.
Deripaska is one of the most powerful men in Russia, if not the world. He owns entire industries there, and as the Active Measures documentary shows, was directly responsible for stirring up corruption in Ukraine, to make the Kyiv government weaker. Even Putin knows better than to cross the guy. He may well be a CIA confidential informant—his relationship to the U.S. government is fishy—but only insofar as it serves his own interests. When I asked a source if Deripaska was on our side or Putin’s side, I was told: “Deripaska is working for Deripaska.”
The Report continues:
At about the same time that he hired Manafort, Deripaska introduced Manafort to pro-Russia oligarchs in Ukraine, including Rinat Akhmetov. These Ukrainian oligarchs had deep economic ties to Russia and were aligned with a pro-Russia political party which was backed by the Russian government. Over the next decade, these oligarchs paid Manafort tens of millions of dollars and formed strong ties with Manafort, independent of Deripaska. Manafort’s work in Ukraine culminated with the 2010 election of Viktor Yanukovych to the presidency, bringing Manafort into the inner circle of Ukrainian politics until Yanukovych’s flight to Russia· in 2014.
Viktor Yanukovych was an ill-mannered dipshit, much like Trump, who defeated a popular HRC-like candidate, the reform-minded Yulia Tymoshenko. On the campaign trail, Yanukovych promised to “lock her up,” a phrase crafted by Manafort, and a promise Yanukovych managed to keep.
At the outset of his work for the Ukrainian oligarchs and for Deripaska, Manafort hired and worked increasingly closely with a Russian national, Konstantin Kilimnik. Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer. Kilimnik quickly became an integral part of Manafort’s operations in Ukraine and Russia, serving as Manafort’s primary liaison to Deripaska and eventually managing Manafort's office in Kyiv. Kilimnik and Manafort formed a close and lasting relationship that would endure to the 2016 U.S. elections and beyond.
By the time he joined the Trump Campaign, Manafort’s work in Ukraine had diminished and his relationship with Deripaska had long soured. In late 2015 and early 2016, however, Manafort remained engaged in business disputes related to both. Manafort believed he was owed millions of dollars by oligarchs in Ukraine for past political consulting work and sought to collect on this debt. Separately, Deripaska initiated legal proceedings to recover a multi-million dollar investment in a failed Manafort business venture. These financial disputes came at a time when Manafort had no meaningful income.
Again, Deripaska is a scary motherfucker with deep ties to both organized crime and the Russian intelligence community. The relationship “soured” because Manafort owed him money. And Oleg is not a guy you want to owe money to.
In the midst of these disputes, Manafort used personal contacts to offer his services—unpaid—to the Trump Campaign as early as January 2016.
Why would a guy with serious cash flow problems, in eight-figure hock to a ruthless oligarch, take a job for free? Maybe because he could offer the fruits of that labor—i.e., information, or “intelligence”—to his creditors?
The Campaign hired Manafort in mid-March 2016 after conducting no known vetting of him, including of his financial situation or vulnerability to foreign influence.
Vetting was not necessary; as discussed, Trump knew Manafort well.
Prior to the public announcement of Manafort’s new position on the Campaign, Manafort reached out to Kilimnik, with whom Manafort had remained in contact, to notify him of the development. Once on the Campaign, Manafort quickly sought to leverage his position to resolve his multi-million dollar foreign disputes and obtain new work in Ukraine and elsewhere.
“Leverage his position to resolve…disputes” is a fancy way of saying, “Hey, Oleg, what can I do for you as Trump’s campaign guy in lieu of paying back those millions?” No doubt Deripaska might want to be removed from the U.S. sanctions list—or at least have one of his companies removed, which eventually happened, because of Mitch McConnell.
Once Manafort’s hiring was publicly announced, Manafort used Kilimnik to send private messages to three Ukrainian oligarchs—at least one of whom Manafort believed owed him money—and to Deripaska.
So now we see what Manafort is: a sleazeball in massive debt to one of the worst men in the world to be in debt to.
Here’s what he did:
On numerous occasions over the course of his time on the Trump Campaign, Manafort sought to secretly share internal Campaign information with Kilimnik. Gates, who served as Manafort’s deputy on the Campaign, aided Manafort in this effort. Manafort communicated electronically with Kilimnik and met Kilimnik in person twice while serving on the Trump Campaign. Manafort briefed Kilimnik on sensitive Campaign polling data and the Campaign’s strategy for beating Hillary Clinton. At Manafort’s direction, Gates used an encrypted messaging application [suggested by Kilimnik] to send additional Campaign polling data to Kilimnik.
The Committee was unable to reliably determine why Manafort shared sensitive internal polling data or Campaign strategy with Kilimnik. Manafort and Gates both claimed that it was part of an effort to resolve past business disputes and obtain new work with their past Russian and Ukrainian clients by showcasing Manafort’s success.
That may have been why Manafort sent the data. But it certainly wasn’t why Kimilnik, the election saboteur, asked for it. Because the bipartisan Committee also believed that “Kilimnik may have been connected to the GRU’s hack and leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election,” and while that section of the Report contains a lot of redactions, it seems axiomatic that the Russian election saboteur was all in on the election sabotage.
That Manafort was especially cagey with regards to Kilimnik is also notable:
Manafort, who was interviewed by the [Special Counsel’s Office] approximately a dozen times, lied consistently to the SCO during these interviews about one issue in particular: his interactions with Kilimnik, the Russian intelligence officer at the center of the Committee's investigation. These lies violated Manafort’s plea agreement, which obligated him to be truthful in his cooperation with the government, and exposed him to a more severe prison sentence than the agreement contemplated….Manafort’s true motive in deciding to face more severe criminal penalties rather than provide complete answers about his interactions with Kilimnik is unknown.
In other words, Manafort would rather blow up his plea deal and spend more time in the hoosegow than rat out his Russian intelligence buddy. Spending the rest of his life in prison was preferable to whatever fate awaited him if he sold out Kilimnik and Deripaska. It’s very clear where his true allegiances lie—not with the American people. The bipartisan Committee arrived at the same conclusion:
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 Committee assesses that Kilimnik likely served as a channel to Manafort for Russian intelligence services, and that those services likely sought to exploit Manafort’s access to gain insight into the Campaign. Taken as a whole, 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.
That is damning—especially when we consider that it was Manafort who ultimately foisted Mike Pence on Trump as a running mate.
We don’t know if this choice was made because Manafort thought it was smart politically, or because he knew Pence was compromised, or both. But Kamala Harris, who sits on the Committee, almost certainly does. She’s read all of Volume 5, including the redactions and background material, and thus knows exactly what Pence really is; it will be interesting to see if she goes there in the VP debate.
The Founders above all wanted the United States to be independent of foreign influence. That our current president and vice president were installed with the help of a hostile foreign power would be anathema to Jefferson, Madison, and the rest. And yet the chair of the campaign of the candidate who would be president of the United States—and who as president of the United States has served Moscow more faithfully than the American people—was unequivocally cooperating with Russian intelligence to install their property in the People’s House.
If it looks like collusion, feels like collusion, sounds like collusion, and smells like collusion, what else can it be?
Photo credit: Victoria Pickering. Paul Manafort, his wife, and his lawyer Kevin Downing arriving at court for a status update hearing on Valentine’s Day 2018.
Since then, Barrack was indicted for acting as an agent for a foreign government; he was acquitted.
She didn’t go there; the fly did the work for her.
Let's call it "coordination" a word that's likely too difficult to pronounce for the donald just as 'yesterday" has been, apparently. [Yesterday...all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks like they're here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday.]
Such a delicious article. Thanks for reprising this. I am infinitely fascinated and of course, horrified by anything ' Manafort and Kilimnik ' ( also V. Invankov )...I miss LB's Manafort Mondays.
I thank you as always for the beautiful ride your words take me and others on.
Love StacyO 💕 ( AKA RacyO )