In startling revelation Tuesday, from court documents filed in the Robert Mueller-led investigation into possible collusion between the 2016 Donald Trumps presidential campaign and Russia, Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort was revealed to have transmitted internal campaign polling data to a suspected Russian intelligence operative, as the New York Times reported. According to experts, the incident uncovered by special counsel Robert Mueller would constitute the clearest example yet of collusion between the campaign and Russia — especially if Russians used the data in their covert social media propaganda campaign to help Trump win the election.
"If Russians used data obtained from Manafort... to inform their decisions about paid advertising mentioning Trump or Clinton—decisions about the content of the ads, the timing of the ads, the intended audience of the ads, etc., then the ads would likely meet the federal law definition of 'coordinated communications,'" wrote campaign law expert Paul Seamus Ryan on the Just Security site.
But another important aspect of a collusion case would be proving whether or not Trump himself knew about Manafort's "coordination" with the Russia agent, who intended to pass the data on to a pair of pro-Russia oligarchs in Ukraine. On Thursday, Trump flatly denied knowing of Manafort's activities, according to the Washington Post.When asked by ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl, "Did you know Paul Manafort was sharing polling data from your campaign with the Russians?" Trump simply denied any knowledge of the incident.
"No, I didn't know anything about it," Trump answered, per MediaIte.
Trump made no other statement about the Manafort matter and simply moved on to unrelated questions after issuing his denial. But the denial was reminiscent of an earlier flat denial Trump issued in response to a question about a "hush money" payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, a payment made to keep Daniels quiet about a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, as CNBC reported.But Trump did, in fact, know about the payment to Daniels, admitting in a Fox News interview last August — just four months after his initial denial - that the payment to Daniels "came from me," as Inquisitr reported.
Then in December, in a sentencing memo for Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen — who arranged the payment — prosecutors and Cohen said that orders to make the Daniels payoff came directly from Trump, as NBC News reported.
"The key for investigators, legal and congressional, going forward should be the question made famous during Watergate," wrote Henry Olsen, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, in the Washington Post on Wednesday. "What did the president know and when did he know it?"
Whether Trump's denial that he knew anything about Manafort's coordination with a Russian operative will prove to be false, as with his denial in the Stormy Daniels case, remains unclear.