World: Trump aide spoke during campaign to associate tied to Russian intelligence

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Rick Gates

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…

The campaign official, Rick Gates, had frequent phone calls in September and October 2016 with a person the FBI believes 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 G.R.U.,” the Russian military intelligence agency.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating numerous contacts between President Donald Trump’s advisers and Russians 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 lobbying efforts in Kiev, Ukraine, on behalf of the former pro-Russian president of Ukraine. The description of the person matches that of Konstantin V. Kilimnik, who for years was Manafort’s right-hand man in Ukraine.

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.

At the time of the calls, Gates was the Trump campaign’s liaison to the Republican National Committee 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 secret payments he had received for his lobbying in Ukraine.

Both Manafort and Gates were indicted last 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. Last year, as scrutiny mounted of his work with Manafort and Gates in Ukraine, he steadfastly 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 F. Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president, from international criticism over the prosecution and incarceration of one of his political rivals.

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.

The sentencing document describes an observation by one unidentified witness in the investigation who said van der Zwaan had “gone native.”

“That is, he had grown too close to Manafort, Gates, and Person A,” the document stated.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

MARK MAZZETTI © 2018 The New York Times

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