The campaign official, Rick Gates, had frequent phone calls in September and October 2016 with a person the FBI thinks had active links to Russian spy services at the time.
WASHINGTON — A top Trump campaign official had repeated communications during the final weeks of the 2016 presidential race with a business associate tied to Russian intelligence, according to a document released Tuesday by the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the election.
The campaign official, Rick Gates, had frequent phone calls in September and October 2016 with a person the FBI thinks had active links to Russian spy services at the time, the document said. Gates also told an associate the person “was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with the GRU,” the Russian military intelligence agency.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating numerous contacts involving President Donald Trump’s advisers and Russia-linked individuals and entities leading up to and after the November 2016 election. The document, filed in Mueller’s name, stated that the communications between Gates and the individual were “pertinent to the investigation.”
The individual is identified only as “Person A,” and the document describes him as someone who worked for Gates and Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, as part of their earlier representation of Russia-aligned parties and politicians in Ukraine, including the former president of Ukraine. A person with knowledge of the matter identified Person A as Konstantin V. Kilimnik, who for years was Manafort’s right-hand man in Ukraine.
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Manafort has told associates that he does not believe that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence, but the document released Tuesday shows that Gates told others of his history in the intelligence services. That history was widely discussed for years among people who worked with Manafort and Gates in Ukraine.
At the time of the calls, Gates was the Trump campaign’s liaison to the Republican National Committee (RNC) and, before that, he was the campaign’s deputy chairman. Manafort served as the campaign chairman until August 2016, when he resigned amid the growing controversy about his work in Ukraine.
Both Manafort and Gates were indicted this past year for money laundering and other financial crimes committed while, the charges said, they tried to hide the money they received for their Ukraine work. Last month, Gates pleaded guilty to financial fraud and lying to investigators and has agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation.
Manafort has vowed to fight the charges. In February 2017, he told The New York Times he had “never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government of the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today.”
But, he added, “It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer.’”
Kilimnik was born in Ukraine when it was still part of the Soviet Union, and he served in the Russian army as a linguist. This past year, as scrutiny mounted of his work with Manafort and Gates in Ukraine, he denied any association with Russian intelligence. An investigation by Ukrainian prosecutors into Kilimnik’s possible links to Russian spy agencies was closed late last year without charges.
Kilimnik has maintained residences in Moscow and Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, and has traveled regularly between them during years of working for Manafort and Gates on behalf of various Russia-aligned oligarchs and political parties.
The new document is a sentencing memorandum for Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer who pleaded guilty in February to lying to federal investigators about his conversations with Gates in 2016 about work the two men did in Ukraine.
Van der Zwaan was an attorney at a firm that worked with Manafort and Gates to prepare a report used to defend Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president, from international criticism over the prosecution and incarceration of one of his political rivals.
Van der Zwaan “worked closely” on the report with Gates and Person A, according to a court filing submitted Tuesday night by van der Zwaan’s lawyers asking the judge for leniency in sentencing.
Van der Zwaan originally told Mueller’s investigators that he had not spoken to Gates since August 2016, but subsequently admitted he had lied after prosecutors confronted him with evidence of conversations.