New documents in the Russia probe show that former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his aide, Rick Gates, had contact with a business associate with known Russian intelligence ties, the Guardian reports. Despite the fact that Gates and Manafort knew that this business associate had ties to the Kremlin, they still decided to form a working relationship with the associate during October of 2016, mere weeks before the election.
The document which contains this revelation is a sentencing memo for Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who pleaded guilty to making false statements to the special counsel about his relationships with Gates, Manafort, and their Russian-connected business associate (which the document dubs as “Person A”). Van der Zwaan, who is now cooperating with the special counsel, is alleged to have withheld and destroyed documents relating to his communications with Manafort, Gates, and Person A, as well as lying to the special counsel about them.
Despite van der Zwaan’s efforts, the special counsel managed to uncover that the Dutch lawyer had recorded conversations he had with Gates and Person A. In these conversations, Person A suggested that the $5 million paid to van der Zwaan’s law firm through Gates and Manafort were “only a part of the iceberg” and that there were “additional payments” to come. These payments to van der Zwaan’s firm came from a Ukrainian oligarch and were funneled through the web of accounts that Gates and Manafort created to launder money.
The description of Person A that Mueller gives appears to match that of Konstantin V. Kilimnik, who worked as Manafort’s right-hand man for years in the Ukraine, the New York Times reports. While Manafort claims that he didn’t know that Kilimnik had Russian intelligence ties, the special counsel alleges that Manafort’s right hand man, Rick Gates, knew that Person A was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with the GRU (Russia’s military). The fact that Rick Gates knew that Person A had ties to Russian intelligence casts doubt on notions that contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign were “unwitting”.
Both Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were indicted earlier this year on numerous charges of money laundering and financial crimes which they allegedly committed while attempting to hide extensive Ukrainian funds. Gates has already plead guilty and is working with the special counsel, while Manafort appears to maintain his innocence. Experts have theorized that Manafort may be waiting for a pardon by President Trump for his federal crimes. Manafort, however, cannot be pardoned for state crimes he faces in Virginia — charges which he is currently attempting to have dismissed, ABC reports.
While the President’s legal team denies the notion that a pardon was ever discussed, the New York Times has been told that the possibility of a pardon for both Manafort and Michael Flynn was indeed floated by the President’s lawyers last year. Three sources familiar with the discussions revealed that the legal team was worried about the information that Manafort and Flynn would reveal if they were to cut a deal with the special counsel.
At this juncture, Manafort’s future remains uncertain, but due to the fact that the special counsel has managed to flip both Michael Flynn and Rick Gates, Manafort may face a difficult trial if he chooses to maintain his innocence. While more ties between the Russians and Trump’s campaign are revealed, one question is still in the minds of the American people: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”