WASHINGTON – The Biden administration announced Thursday that a business partner of Trump campaign officials provided campaign poll data to Russian intelligence agencies in 2016. This is the strongest evidence yet that Russian spies have penetrated the inner workings of the Trump campaign.
The revelation, published in a Treasury Department document announcing new sanctions against Russia, noted for the first time that private meetings and communications between campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates and their business partner had a direct link from the campaign Russia portrayed spies at a time when the Kremlin was making covert efforts to sabotage the 2016 presidential election.
Previous government investigations have identified Trump Aid agent Konstantin V. Kilimnik as a Russian intelligence agent, and Mr. Manafort’s decision to provide him with internal survey data was one of the puzzles that Special Adviser Robert S. Mueller III . attempted to unravel Russia’s interference in the elections during his two-year investigation.
“During the US presidential election in 2016, Kilimnik provided the Russian secret services with sensitive information on election and campaign strategy,” the Treasury Department said in a press release. “Kilimnik also wanted to promote the story that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.”
The Biden government did not provide any evidence to support the assessment that Russian intelligence agencies received the survey data and campaign information. And the release failed to explain why Mr Manafort and Mr Gates gave Mr Kilimnik survey data, although previous government reports indicated that Mr Manafort believed that information on Trump’s campaign strategy could be a valuable commodity for future business deals with the Kremlin. connected oligarchs.
The survey data would have allowed Russia to better understand the Trump campaign’s strategy – including the campaign’s resource focus – at a time when the Russian government was making its own efforts to undermine Donald J. Trump’s opponent.
Mr Gates said in a statement Thursday that the Treasury Department had provided no evidence to back up his claim, adding that “the survey data that Kilimnik was regularly submitted on the direction of Paul Manafort was simple and out of date, never in real time.”
“It was from both public and internal sources,” said Gates. “They weren’t massive binders full of demographics or intensive research. They were ‘topline’ numbers and did not contain any strategic plans. “
The new sanctions against Russia are in response to the Kremlin’s electoral manipulation, efforts to hack American government agencies and corporations, and other aggression against the United States.
The sanctions make it extremely difficult for Mr Kilimnik, who was indicted by the Justice Department in 2018 for obstruction of justice, to conduct financial transactions that may involve the United States.
It is unclear how long American spy agencies drew the conclusion about Mr. Kilimnik. Fearing Mr. Trump’s anger, senior officials in the Trump administration repeatedly tried to withhold information from the public that appeared to demonstrate Mr. Trump’s affinity with Russia or its President, Vladimir V. Putin.
Mr. Kilimnik had been a long-term business partner during his time as a political advisor in Ukraine. In 2018, prosecutors for Mr. Müller’s office announced that Mr. Kilimnik had “ties to Russian intelligence” and that Mr. Manafort had instructed Mr. Gates to forward election and campaign information to Mr. Kilimnik.
The Senate Intelligence Committee continued its bipartisan report last August examining the links between the Trump campaign and Russia. He called Mr. Kilimnik a “Russian intelligence officer”.
The report included several major editors appearing in connection with Mr Manafort and Mr Kilimnik, but said that Mr Manafort’s willingness to share the information with him “poses a serious threat to counter-espionage”.
The report identified the relationship between Mr Manafort and Mr Kilimnik as “the most direct link between senior officials in the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence agencies”.
The Senate report portrayed a Trump campaign composed of businessmen and other advisors with little government experience who “were attractive targets for foreign influence, creating notable security vulnerabilities in counter-espionage.”
A 2017 New York Times article said there were numerous interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence in the year leading up to the election. FBI officials had denied the report, but both the Senate report and the Treasury Department document corroborate the article’s findings.
The claim that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that wanted to disrupt the 2016 elections has long been both a Kremlin talking point and a claim by Mr Trump that foreign actors were trying to help his opponent Hillary Clinton and not him.
Mr Trump’s obsession with Ukraine’s alleged role in the elections sparked a phone call with the Ukrainian President in 2019, which was central to the first impeachment trial against Mr Trump.
Mr Manafort was inducted into the Trump campaign in March 2016, at a time when Mr Trump had largely tied up the Republican President nomination.
Mr Manafort and his longtime business partner, Mr Gates, took part in the Trump campaign after years of providing political advice in Ukraine where they met Mr Kilimnik, a Russian Army-trained linguist.
The two men met with Mr. Kilimnik several times after joining, and in June 2016, Mr. Manafort became chairman of the Trump campaign.
Details of Mr Manafort’s relationship with Mr Kilimnik were revealed in 2018 when the government prosecuted Mr Manafort and charged Mr Kilimnik of obstruction of justice for attempting to coach potential witnesses in the investigation.
Mr. Kilimnik never came to the United States to bring charges. He is wanted by the FBI and the office is offering $ 250,000 for information that could lead to his arrest.