OK But This Seems Pretty Colludey

Jack Holmes
·3-min read
Photo credit: Yana Paskova - Getty Images
Photo credit: Yana Paskova - Getty Images

This is not an article about how Hillary Clinton lost because of Russian interference. This is not an article about how Russian interference in the 2016 election was the single worst thing that ever happened. It is not an article that operates on the sunny pretext that the United States has never interfered in anyone else's elections, though the idea voters in Michigan should bear some kind of karmic retribution for what the CIA did in South America doesn't make much sense in the first place. It's not about suggesting Donald Trump did not actually win the 2016 contest, which he did through the bizarre features of our electoral system. The 2016 election was not stolen or illegitimate.

The purpose here is to point out that Paul Manafort, his campaign manager for a key stretch of the campaign, appears to have worked regularly with a Russian intelligence agent during that time. Actually, that part is not totally new: a report from the Senate Intelligence Committee published in 2020—when the committee was controlled by Republicans—found that "on numerous occasions over the course of his time on the Trump campaign, Manafort sought to secretly share internal Campaign information with [Konstantin] Kilimnik." Specifically, Manafort's deputy, Rick Gates, said he was instructed to share campaign polling data with Kilimnik. The report—which, again, Republican allies of Donald Trump signed their names to—characterized Kilimnik as a "Russian intelligence officer."

The Department of the Treasury issued a sweeping set of new sanctions against the Russian government Thursday, and Kilimnik was included in that. As Justin Hendrix first pointed out, there are some continuing similarities with Senate Intel in how they chose to talk about him.

Konstantin Kilimnik (Kilimnik) is a Russian and Ukrainian political consultant and known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy. Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Now we're talking "strategy," too, and Treasury says outright that Kilimnik provided the info to Russian intelligence. Seems relevant that they were sharing all this when, for instance, Russia's Facebook influence campaign targeted Michigan and Wisconsin voters with considerable precision. Meanwhile, Manafort was working on Trump's campaign for free. Totally normal stuff for a political consultant—a famously selfless bunch–that surely had nothing to do with the fact he owed a Russian oligarch millions of dollars. That oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, has close ties to Kilimnik.

Again, nobody is saying this is the single reason why Donald Trump won Michigan or Wisconsin, or that Hillary Clinton was a great candidate who was robbed. It is not a means of burying the notion that Trump made inroads with white non-college-educated voters. It's just some sketchy shit that previewed four years of Trumpian governance, in which the American national interest—which presumably includes allowing Americans to choose their own political leaders free from influence campaigns waged by geopolitical adversaries—came second to the Trumpian interest every time. The path from side channels with Kilimnik to Saudis ostentatiously buying up rooms at Trump hotels is not long and winding.

Or maybe this is still just a product of mass liberal delusion. You know, despite the Republican-led committee report.

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