The Senate Intelligence Committee released its final report into Russian interference in the 2016 election on Tuesday, documenting Russian intelligence operations during the election and alleged ties between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
Several members of the Trump campaign and its unofficial circle are labeled by the committee as potential vectors of Russian intelligence efforts. The bipartisan report calls former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort a “grave counterintelligence threat” for his coordination with a GRU-tied figure; former campaign advisor George Papadopoulos is presented as a “prime intelligence target,” and Trump ally Roger Stone is confirmed to have communicated “directly” to Trump and the campaign supposedly insider information about the release of Democratic emails that had been hacked by Russia.
Those vulnerabilities to Russian influence continued through the post-election transition, the report said, while Russia wasn’t alone in taking advantage of the “relative inexperience” of those advising Trump.
“The lack of vetting of foreign interactions by Transition officials left the Transition open to influence and manipulation by foreign intelligence services, government officials, and co-opted business executives,” the bipartisan report said.
New Revelations about Paul Manafort
Delving into Manafort’s associations with Russian-intelligence tied figures, the lawmakers appear to have dug up the first public evidence suggesting that Manafort’s decision to offer internal campaign information to pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs via an intermediary, Konstantin Kilimnik, may have been linked to Russian military intelligence’s hacking campaign during the election.
The report said that senators “obtained some information” suggesting “Kilimnik may have been connected to the GRU’s hack and leak operation.”
The section of the report substantiating that allegation is entirely redacted, only saying that “a channel for coordination on the GRU hack-and-leak operation may have existed through Kilimnik.” The report describes Kilimnik as “a Russian intelligence officer,” citing pages of redacted information in support of that claim.
A subsequent section discusses two pieces of information which “raise the possibility of Manafort’s potential connection to the hack-and-leak operations.” That section is entirely redacted, save for a brief reference to Manafort’s former son-in-law.
“The Committee found that Manafort’s presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign,” the bipartisan report said.
The report also pointed to Manafort’s discussions with Kilimnik about a Ukraine “peace plan” that benefited the Kremlin — discussions that began during the campaign and continued through 2018. Manafort’s coordination with Kilimnik and other Russia-affiliated persons continued after the election and included work seeking to “undermine evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.”
Lawmakers detailed Manafort’s behavior during the campaign in damning terms, accusing the imprisoned former GOP operative of seeking “to leverage his position to resolve his multi-million dollar foreign disputes and obtain new work in Ukraine and elsewhere.”
“Once Manafort’s hiring was publicly announced, Manafort used Kilimnik to send private messages to three Ukrainian oligarchs — at least one of whom Manafort believed owed him money — and to Deripaska,” the report reads.
The Trump campaign, per the report, did no due diligence on Manafort, hiring him “after conducting no known vetting of him.”
The report also recounts an April 2016 exchange that Kilimnik had with an unnamed associate, apparently conducted in Russian. Kilimnik told the person that Manafort had a “cunning plan” to “screw” Hillary Clinton, and that “there could be surprises, even in American politics.”
Hiding from the Law
Investigators were stymied by Manafort’s extensive use of encryption. His connection to Russian intelligence services, the report said, was never made clear in part because of this.
Manafort would communicate with Kilimnik either through dozens of encrypted apps, described in the report, or by saving an email on a private account to which both had access. When the email was ready, Manafort would tell Kilimnik to check “the tea bag.”
Kilimnik, for his part, reportedly told an associate in 2017 that he wasn’t worried about his communications with Manafort being revealed to investigators, because Manafort “is kind of used to this life” of assuming that he is under constant surveillance.
Senate investigators were then left with no other way to find out the true nature of Manafort and Kilimnik’s relationship. The bipartisan committee pointedly noted that Manafort lied to the Mueller investigation about “his interactions with Kilimnik,” which blocked “the single most direct tie between senior Trump Campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services.”
“Manafort’ s true motive in deciding to face more severe criminal penalties rather than provide complete answers about his interactions with Kilimnik is unknown, but the result is that many interactions between Manafort and Kilimnik remain hidden,” lawmakers concluded.
The report also portrayed Manafort’s position at the campaign as virtually entirely motivated by his desire to settle longstanding debts with his former Ukrainian and Russian paymasters.
The report said Manafort told an associate in early 2016 that “working for the Trump Campaign would be ‘good for business’ and a potential way for Manafort’s firm to be paid for work done in Ukraine for which they were owed.”
Intriguingly, the committee was unable to get any information at all from Manafort’s company — DMP International.
Lawmakers issued subpoenas to DMP, but received no response. A subpoena to the company hosting DMP’s website also didn’t work.
“Efforts to engage Manafort directly while incarcerated also failed to elicit any substantive response,” the bipartisan report reads.
Roger Stone and Wikileaks
In examining the campaign’s reaction to Russia’s hack-and-dump effort, the committee concluded in its bipartisan report that the Trump Campaign “sought to maximize the impact of those leaks to aid Trump’s electoral prospects.
Its report confirmed what had long been alleged about Trump ally Roger Stone: that he had shared “directly” with Trump and others on the campaign his “purported knowledge” about Wikileaks’ release plans.
The committee noted that Trump in written answers to special counsel Robert Mueller had claimed to have no recollection of Wikileaks-related conversations with Stone or the campaign, nor did Trump remember the specifics of any Stone conversations between June and November.
The bipartisan report of the committee said that “despite” Trump’s recollections, it “assesses that Trump did, in fact, speak with Stone about WikiLeaks and with members of his Campaign about Stone’s access to WikiLeaks on multiple occasions.”
“Trump and the Campaign believed that Stone had inside information and expressed satisfaction that Stone’s information suggested more releases would be forthcoming,” the report said, while also noting that the campaign had tasked Stone with seeking out this information.
Ahead of Wikileaks own public announcement of a coming dump, Stone informed Manafort and Manafort’s longtime deputy Rick Gates in June of Wikleaks’ plans to release Clinton-related information.
Once Wikileaks began releasing the emails, the campaign doubled down on its efforts to use Stone to obtain more information about its plans for future document dumps — including a late July directive from Trump that was passed to Stone through Manafort. In response to the instruction, Stone focused on Corsi as a possible intermediary. While he was coordinating outreach to Wikileakswith Corsi, Stone also stayed in frequent communication with the campaign, including in a July 29 phone call with Manafort that lasted 68 minutes — the longest Manafort-Stone conversation the committee was aware of.
Meanwhile, the campaign worked obsessively to build a communications strategy and opposition research operation around the hacked emails, according to the Senate Intel report.
Lawmakers pointed specifically to indications delivered by Stone to the campaign in August that Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta would be targeted in an upcoming Wikileaks release.
The committee said it could not confirm the authenticity of the supposed insider information Stone had. Far right commentator Jerome Corsi — whom Stone reached out to for information about the Wikileaks dumps — made “contradictory” statements about how he learned certain things about the hacked emails, while coordinating a “cover story” with Stone about Stone’s activities, the report said.
It also noted that the Trump campaign did not receive notice from the government until October that the emails were hacked by Russian government actors, though plenty of media reporting had previously suggested Russian involvement.
“Trump and the Campaign continued to promote and disseminate the hacked WikiLeaks documents, even after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security released a joint statement officially attributing the hack-and-leak campaign to Russia as part of its interference in the U.S. presidential election,” the bipartisan report said. “The Trump Campaign publicly undermined the attribution of the hack-and-leak campaign to Russia, and was indifferent to whether it and WikiLeaks were furthering a Russian election interference effort.
The committee said that George Papadopoulos — the Trump campaign advisor who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in its Russia probe — “presented a prime intelligence target and potential vector for malign Russian influence.
The committee said it uncovered “evidence that Papadopoulos likely learned about the Russian active measures campaign as early as April 2016 from Joseph Mifsud,” an enigmatic academic with Russian ties. The committee found it “implausible” that Papadopoulos did not inform anyone on the campaign of this information, though the committee could not determine definitively that he did.
The lawmakers concluded that Carter Page, another campaign advisor, was “likely a subject of interest to Russian officials during the 2016 election,” but they could find “no evidence that Page made any substantive contribution to the Campaign or ever met Trump.”
Before he was officially added to the campaign, Page told campaign officials about his contacts with Kremlin affiliates while proposing that candidate Trump meet Vladimir Putin. There was “no indication,” the report said, that the campaign took up Page’s offer to set up the Russian contact, nor could the committee corroborate Page’s claims about his Russian connections.
It stated, however, that “almost all” the allegations made about Page in the so-called “Steele dossier” — a collection of Trump-Russia allegations compiled by a former British spy — remain “unverified.”
Read the report here:
This article has been updated.