Paul Manafort Shared Trump Campaign Data With Russians, Manafort Pleading Reveals
Paul Manafort's attorneys reveal in a pleading that their client provided insider campaign data to Russian intelligence sources, something that seems an awful lot like collusion.
In a new filing with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, a filing by attorneys for Paul Manafort revealed that Manafort revealed internal polling data and other information from the Trump campaign with people connected to the Russian government and its effort to interfere with the 2016 Presidential election:
WASHINGTON — As a top official in President Trump’s campaign, Paul Manafort shared political polling data with a business associate tied to Russian intelligence, according to a court filing unsealed on Tuesday. The document provided the clearest evidence to date that the Trump campaign may have tried to coordinate with Russians during the 2016 presidential race.
Mr. Manafort’s lawyers made the disclosure by accident, through a formatting error in a document filed to respond to charges that he had lied to prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, after agreeing to cooperate with their investigation into Russian interference in the election.
The document also revealed that during the campaign, Mr. Manafort and his Russian associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, discussed a plan for peace in Ukraine. Throughout the campaign and the early days of the Trump administration, Russia and its allies were pushing various plans for Ukraine in the hope of gaining relief from American-led sanctions imposed after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
Prosecutors and the news media have already documented a string of encounters between Russian operatives and Trump campaign associates dating from the early months of Mr. Trump’s bid for the presidency, including the now-famous meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton. The accidental disclosure appeared to some experts to be perhaps most damning of all.
“This is the closest thing we have seen to collusion,” Clint Watts, a senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said of the data-sharing. “The question now is, did the president know about it?”
The document gave no indication of whether Mr. Trump was aware of the data transfer or how Mr. Kilimnik might have used the information. But from March to August 2016, when Mr. Manafort worked for the Trump campaign, Russia was engaged in a full-fledged operation using social media, stolen emails and other tactics to boost Mr. Trump, attack Mrs. Clinton and play on divisive issues such as race and guns. Polling data could conceivably have helped Russia hone those messages and target audiences to help swing votes to Mr. Trump.
Both Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Mr. Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Mr. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination, according to a person knowledgeable about the situation. Most of the data was public, but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign, according to the person.
One of the more amusing things about this, of course, is the fact that this information was supposed to have been redacted from the publicly available filing due to the fact that it involves matters still under investigation by the Special Counsel. Apparently, though, Manafort’s attorneys significantly messed up using the redaction tools that are made available for PDF files by the Federal Courts, meaning that it was easy for reporters to discover what was not supposed to be revealed to the public. Given the fact this is something that they are likely to be heavily criticized by the presiding Judge for, it’s unlikely that this was a deliberate act and more likely that this was simple incompetence on their part in not properly redacting the document so that the blacked out portions of the document could be so easily read. Legally, it’s not likely to have much of an impact on either Manafort’s fate, on the attorneys, or on the Mueller investigation.
As for the revelations themselves, it’s easy to see why Robert Mueller and his team would be interested in these contacts between Manafort at a time when he was a highly-placed member of the Trump campaign and Russian officials regarding matters relevant to the 2016 Presidential campaign. This data, which included internal polling data from the campaign and other material, would have been of value to Russian efforts to interfere with the campaign in a way that would benefit the Trump campaign because it would potentially give them data that they could then use to support the cyber and “real world” campaigns that they were mounting to influence the outcome of the elections and stoke the kind of chaos among the electorate that was clearly helping the Trump campaign thrive. If nothing else, this would appear to be the first direct evidence we are aware of regarding collusion between officials linked to Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign, and the links weren’t with some low-ranking adviser like George Papadopoulos or Carter Page, but with the Campaign Director.
The logical question from here, of course, is who else may have known about what Manafort was doing, including not just President Trump but also his son Donald Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both of whom were highly placed in the campaign and who, of course, also took part in the now famous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. If they knew about any of this, then the President’s defense of “no collusion” would fall to dust and the case would instantly become far more serious than it already is. We don’t know the answer to those questions, of course, but the fact of the matter is that the further we have gotten into this the more we’ve learned that the Trump campaign had real ties with Russians and people involved with Russian intelligence in the summer of 2016. How high up that collusion goes is a question that only Robert Mueller may know the answer to.