It all began with Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager, now serving a seven-year prison sentence for bank fraud, tax fraud, money laundering, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, false statements, and witness tampering.
Now Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is promoting Manafort’s defense of his felonious behavior: I was looking for the Democratic National Committee’s server. It’s a weak case to say the least.
From Just Security:
Manafort began floating the false theory during the 2016 campaign that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for the hack of the DNC server, according to interviews conducted by Mueller’s team with Rick Gates, Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman. (The US intelligence community unanimously attributed the hack to Russia, and Special Counsel Mueller later indicted 12 GRU Russian military officers for the hack.) In the ensuing months, Manafort and his close collaborator Konstantin Kilimnik – a Russian intelligence officer – actively engaged in secretive efforts to promote the idea that Ukraine interfered in the election not only with respect to the server; their narrative also included the idea that Ukraine officials targeted Manafort in the final stretch of the campaign using false documents. “Manafort embraced and promoted the narrative of Ukraine’s alleged involvement in the 2016 elections,” the recently released bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report explains. “Kilimnik almost certainly helped arrange some of the first public messaging that Ukraine had interfered in the U.S. election,” which included fostering stories in the media.
This statement needs qualification. The assertion that Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence “officer” is unproven. Kilimnik took translation courses in the military intelligence service, the GRU (the equivalent of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.) There’s no evidence Kilimnik ever served as an officer in the GRU or in Russia’s other intelligence agencies, the FSB and the SVR.
It would be more accurate to say that Kilimnik was a Russian intelligence asset, not an officer. The bottom line is that he was Manafort’s Russian fixer in Russia and Ukraine. When the multiple contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian state actors became public, Kilimnik helped Manafort concoct the Ukraine conspiracy theory to deflect charges that Russia was helping Trump.
The theory holds that the Ukraine government helped the Clinton campaign. That the DNC emails were not hacked by Russians but Ukrainians. There’s scant evidence of any of this. There’s lots of evidence that Manafort wants a presidential pardon and regurgitating the Ukraine conspiracy theory is the best way to ingratiate himself with the president.
Sen. Johnson is seeking to to do what prosecutor John Durham has declined to do: give President Trump an issue to use against Joe Biden.