Thursday, March 29, 2018

Update on Mueller investigation into Trump campaign and Russia

Aaron Blake (Washington Post/The FIx) reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller just drew his most direct line to date between the Trump campaign and Russia.

That line is drawn in a new court filing related to the upcoming sentencing of London attorney Alex van der Zwaan. Van der Zwaan has pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with deputy Trump campaign manager Rick Gates and a person identified in the document only as “Person A.” Person A appears to be a former Ukraine-based aide to Gates and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort named Konstantin Kilimnik.

Here’s the paragraph (bold in original):

Fourth, the lies and withholding of documents were material to the Special Counsel’s Office’s investigation. That Gates and Person A were directly communicating in September and October 2016 was pertinent to the investigation. Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel’s Office assess that Person A has ties to Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016. During his first interview with the Special Counsel’s Office, van der Zwaan admitted that he knew of that connection, stating that Gates told him Person A was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with GRU.

That Person A has had ties to Russian intelligence is not terribly surprising. Kilimnik’s personal history has been examined extensively by the media, including The Washington Post. He has denied being involved in Russian intelligence, but he served in the Russian military and attended a Russian military foreign language university that is seen as a breeding ground for intelligence agents.

What’s particularly significant in the Mueller filing, though, are six words: “and had such ties in 2016.” Prosecutors have said previously that a longtime Manafort and Gates associate had ties to Russian intelligence, but they have never said those ties remained during the 2016 campaign. In December, they said this associate was “a longtime Russian colleague . . . who is currently based in Russia and assessed to have ties to a Russian intelligence service.” Why those six words were added in this filing when they didn’t appear in the previous filing is the $64,000 question.

… There is so much Mueller knows that we simply don’t; this could be the tip of an iceberg or an extraneous fact. But those six words do seem at least a little conspicuous.

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