Yesterday, Paul Manafort’s lawyers inadvertently disclosed that their client had passed polling data to his Konstantin Kilimnik, his business partner and a Russian intelligence agent. This surprising revelation has placed President Trump’s defenders in an inconvenient position of having to maintain their “no collusion!” stance in the face of evidence of literal cooperation between Trump’s campaign manager and the Russians responsible for illicit behavior on his behalf. It’s quite collusive.
The awkwardness of the defense was on hilarious display when Republican senator James Lankford gave an interview to CNN. Lankford began the interview by characterizing Kilimnik as representing Ukraine. “This is an ongoing relationship Paul Manafort had with Ukraine,” he said. “He was a representative of Ukraine, worked for the Ukrainian government.”
Of course, Kilimnik’s work in Ukraine was financed by, and undertaken on behalf of, Russia. Russian oligarchs (acting at the apparent behest of Vladimir Putin) hired Kilimnik and Manafort to help elect pro-Russian candidates in Ukraine. To depict Kilimnik as representing “Ukraine” and the “Ukrainian government” is misleading in the extreme.
When it was pointed out that Kilimnik was and is a Russian intelligence agent, and this fact was known to Manafort, Lankford switched his line of defense. “Now, this person previously worked for the Russian military,” he conceded, “but so did most everybody in that.” Well, yes — most everybody working for the pro-Russian front party Manafort and Kilimnik represented had previous experience working for Russian military intelligence. That’s not a coincidence! It’s because the whole operation was directed by Russian intelligence.
Rather than consider the incriminating implications of this fact, Lankford instead switched back to emphasizing the long-standing nature of the relationship between Kilimnik and Manafort. “I don’t see this as a deliberate contact with the Russian government. This was a person he’d worked with for a decade and a half at that point in Ukraine,” Lankford said. “We need to get the whole story on it, because it makes it sound like this was some back channel communication with it. If it was, this was someone Paul Manafort had known for a very long time and trusted.”
So before he took a job managing Trump’s campaign, Manafort worked alongside a known Russian intelligence agent for years and years to elect candidates with pro-Russian policies. He continued to work with him while directing the Trump campaign. The fact that this relationship had been going on for so long is being presented as the defense. How could these two men be colluding, your honor? They had a business partnership dating back many years!