When former Donald Trump 2016 Campaign Manager Paul Manafort and his longtime business associate, Rick Gates, were indicted last October by Russia investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller, experts generally believed that Mueller would persuade Gates to cooperate with the investigation in order to get further evidence against Manafort — evidence that could lead to Trump himself due to the close relationship between the then-candidate and the man running his campaign.
But according to a stunning report by CNN late on Thursday, sources close to the investigation say that Mueller never needed Gates to give evidence against Manafort. Instead, he sought cooperation from the 45-year-old — who, unlike Manafort, remained with the Trump campaign throughout the presidential transition and into the early months of Trump’s term in office. Mueller believed that Gates could directly link the Trump campaign to Russians, who may have secretly cooperated with the campaign, in what has become commonly known as “collusion.”
On February 23 of this year, Gates pleaded guilty to lesser charges than those Mueller had originally brought against him, and agreed to provide Mueller with evidence in the Russia case. And just yesterday, March 28, Mueller revealed the first indication that Gates is indeed providing evidence of direct cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 campaign.
In a court filing late Tuesday evening, Mueller revealed that during the campaign, Gates and Manafort were in contact with a Russian military intelligence agent identified in the court flings only as “Person A,” but who media reports have named as Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate of Manafort and Gates in their Ukraine political operation.
In Ukraine, Manafort and Gates acted as top political consultants for the pro-Russian political strongman Viktor Yanukovich, who became president of Ukraine with their help. Yanukovich, who jailed his top political opponent and adopted a pro-Russian stance in Ukraine’s foreign and economic policies, was finally ousted in a popular uprising, in February of 2014. He is now hiding in Russia.
According to Mueller’s court filing, Kilimnik was an agent of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, and maintained his ties to the intelligence service throughout the campaign and beyond. Gates knew that Kilimnik was a Russian operative, even as he continued to maintain contact with him during the campaign, Mueller’s filing states.
Kilimnik has also boasted that he played a significant role in changing the Republican Party platform to a more pro-Russian position during the 2016 Republican National Convention, at which Trump received the party’s presidential nomination. With Gates and Manafort, who was still Trump’s campaign chair at the time, knowing that Kilimnik was a Russian agent, allowing him to help alter the party’s platform to adopt a pro-Russia position was out of step with previous Republican policy, and has been seen by some experts as a clear example of collusion.
According to the CNN report, the link between Kilimnik, Gates, and Manafort is “the most direct effort yet by Mueller’s team to draw a line between Manafort and the Trump campaign to Russian operatives.”
Trump has repeatedly claimed that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and the Russian government. But the revelation of the Gates-Manafort-Kilimnik connection appears to be the first hard evidence revealed in court documents by Mueller that, in fact, direct collusion did occur.
According to the CNN report, the Kilimnik connection may be only the first of many examples of collusion evidence that Gates could have already provided Mueller. Gates is believed, the report says, to have knowledge of the June 9, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump, Jr., Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, Manafort, and a group of Russians who promised “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Gates is believed to have kept close tabs on behind-the-scenes events during the campaign and “would be the kind of person who would probably know” about that meeting, and whether Trump himself knew that the meeting took place, CNN reported.