President Trump’s commutation of the prison sentence of his longtime confidante Roger Stone is wholly unsurprising. Indeed, given Trump’s repeated teasing of the matter over the life of the case against Stone, it would have been something of a surprise had he not intervened so that his felonious friend was spared time behind bars.
But the predictable nature of Trump’s action should not obscure its rank corruption. In fact, the predictability makes the commutation all the more corrupt, the capstone of an all-but-open attempt on the president’s part to obstruct justice in a self-protective fashion over a protracted period of time. That may sound like hyperbole, but it’s actually not. Trump publicly encouraged Stone not to cooperate with Robert Mueller’s investigation, he publicly dangled clemency as a reward for silence, and he has now delivered. The act is predictable precisely because the corrupt action is so naked.
In a normal world, this pattern of conduct would constitute an almost prototypical impeachable offense. But this is not a normal world. Congress is unlikely to bestir itself to do anything about what Trump has done—just as it has previously done nothing about the obstruction allegations detailed in the Mueller report. Indeed, in the midst of a presidential campaign, a second impeachment would surely be ill advised. The only remedy for this behavior, at least while Trump remains in office, has to lie in accountability in the context of Trump’s campaign for reelection.
That is why it is so important to understand the history that led to the Stone commutation, just how corrupt it is, and why the predictability of the president’s action actually inflames public outrage—not inures the public to what Trump has done here.
Roger Stone isn’t just Trump’s confidante or friend. According to newly unsealed material in the Mueller report, he’s also a person who had the power to reveal to investigators that Trump likely lied to Mueller—and to whom Trump publicly dangled rewards if Stone refused to provide Mueller with that information. Now, it seems, the president is making good on that promise.
When the report first became public in April 2019, it described how Stone reached out to WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign and represented himself to the Trump campaign as having inside information on upcoming releases of information damaging to Hillary Clinton. But a significant portion of the material on Stone was redacted because of ongoing criminal proceedings against him. Recently, however, following the guilty verdict against Stone, a court unsealed that hidden material thanks to litigation by BuzzFeed News and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). The newly unredacted information—some but not all of which was revealed over the course of Stone’s trial, but some of which was not previously public—is highly revealing of Stone’s relationship with the president.
During the 2016 campaign, Mueller writes, Stone “made several attempts to contact WikiLeaks founder Assange, boasted of his access to Assange, and was in regular contact with Campaign officials about the releases that Assange made and was believed to be planning.” He spoke repeatedly about his connections to Assange, witnesses told Mueller, and his ability to find out what new releases of information WikiLeaks was planning. Crucially, the unredacted information includes testimony from multiple witnesses who described Stone’s conversations about upcoming WikiLeaks releases with high-level campaign officials—including Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort—and even Trump himself.
According to Manafort, Trump personally told the chairman that he should keep in touch with Stone about WikiLeaks. Another campaign official, Rick Gates, recalled an incident during the campaign in which Trump spoke by phone with Stone and then told Gates that, as Mueller paraphrases, “more releases of damaging information would be coming.” Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen told Mueller about overhearing a phone call in which Stone told Trump that “he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and in a couple of days WikiLeaks would release information.” Then, Mueller writes, once WikiLeaks began dumping material damaging to Clinton in July 2016, Trump “said to Cohen something to the effect of, ‘I guess Roger was right.’”
So Trump clearly knew about and encouraged Stone’s outreach to WikiLeaks, the unredacted report shows. Yet in written answers the president provided to Mueller’s office in the course of the special counsel’s investigation, Trump insisted that he did not recall “the specifics of any call [he] had” with Stone during the campaign or any discussions with Stone of WikiLeaks. And shortly after he submitted those answers, the unredacted report states, Trump began tweeting publicly in support of Stone—calling him “brave” and congratulating his “guts” for refusing to testify.
Trump’s tweets were always suspicious, to say the least. And his answers to Mueller seemed less than entirely credible even when the redacted report was first released. But the newly revealed text makes clear Mueller’s suspicions that Trump lied in his written answers—and then pushed Stone not to testify in order to prevent Mueller from discovering that lie. As Mueller put it dryly: “[T]he President’s conduct could also be viewed as reflecting his awareness that Stone could provide evidence that would run counter to the President’s denials and would link the President to Stone’s efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks.” The special counsel also writes that Trump’s tweets to Stone—along with his tweets criticizing Cohen, who was by then cooperating with investigators—“support the inference that the President intended to communicate a message that witnesses could be rewarded for refusing to provide testimony adverse to the President and disparaged if they chose to cooperate.”
Stone did, indeed, refuse to provide testimony adverse to Trump. And while his precise relationship to WikiLeaks and Assange was never fully explained, he stood trial for lies to Congress denying his efforts to contact WikiLeaks, and for intimidating another witness who could have contradicted those lies. As the judge in Stone’s case put it: “He was prosecuted for covering up for the President.”
Now, with Trump’s commutation, Stone has received the precise reward Trump dangled at the time his possible testimony was at issue.
“Roger Stone is a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency,” the White House said Friday evening. In the White House’s telling, Stone was targeted by out-of-control Mueller prosecutors for mere “process” crimes when their “collusion delusion” fell apart. He was subject to needless humiliation in his arrest, and he did not get a fair trial. “[P]articularly in light of the egregious facts and circumstances surrounding his unfair prosecution, arrest, and trial, the President has determined to commute his sentence. Roger Stone has already suffered greatly. He was treated very unfairly, as were many others in this case. Roger Stone is now a free man!”
Indeed he is. But the story may not be over.
“Time to put Roger Stone in the grand jury to find out what he knows about Trump but would not tell. Commutation can’t stop that,” tweeted Andrew Weissman, one of Mueller’s top prosecutors, following the president’s action.
That’s most unlikely while the Justice Department remains in the hands of Attorney General William Barr. But it’s far from unthinkable should Trump leave office in January. What’s more, the commutation means that the story Mueller tells about potential obstruction vis-a-vis Stone did not end with the activity described by the Mueller report. It is a continuing pattern of conduct up until the present day. That potentially makes it easier for a future Justice Department to revive at least one of the obstruction questions that Barr squelched when he closed the cases Mueller intentionally did not resolve. In addition to all the facts reported by Mueller, including facts that have been redacted until recently, Trump has now consummated the deal he dangled before Stone.
That’s something the Justice Department may want to examine anew—someday.
Mr. Stone was found guilty of all seven counts against him, including five involving making false statements to Congress. Federal prosecutors made the case that Mr. Stone lied to Congress about his efforts to make contact with the organization WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. The jury of nine women and three men began deliberating Thursday morning at a Washington D.C. courthouse after a one-week trial.
The witness tampering charge carries a stiff penalty, with Mr. Stone facing as much as 20 years in prison, although first-time offenders often get far less than the maximum penalty. The other charges carry a maximum of five years.
WikiLeaks published several troves of Democratic Party emails stolen by Russian hackers as part of a Kremlin campaign to boost Mr. Trump at the expense of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded.
““Roger Stone had no intention of being truthful with the committee…he is just making stuff up,” prosecutor Jonathan Kravis had told jurors, saying Mr. Stone did so to help Mr. Trump.
Mr. Stone is the sixth associate of Mr. Trump to be convicted on charges stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian activity in the 2016 election.
Mr. Mueller’s report didn’t establish that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia. The Stone trial was one of the final loose ends from the Mueller investigation, which wrapped up in March.
Mr. Stone’s defense attorneys portrayed him as a serial exaggerator who was merely pretending to have inside knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to inflate his standing in Mr. Trump’s inner circle. They offered no witnesses in Mr. Stone’s defense. They rested their case after playing a roughly hourlong clip of Mr. Stone’s testimony in front of Congress.
“There was no purpose for Mr. Stone to have to lie about anything to protect the campaign, when the campaign was doing nothing wrong,” Bruce Rogow told jurors in summing up the case. He also noted that Mr. Stone spoke to Congress after Mr. Trump was elected, so couldn’t have hurt Mr. Trump’s campaign.
Mr. Stone has been a Republican operative for decades, beginning in 1972 when he served as a junior staffer on President Nixon’s reelection campaign. He went on to work for Ronald Reagan in his presidential bid. When in New York organizing for the campaign in 1979, he was introduced to Mr. Trump by attorney Roy Cohn.
Mr. Stone registered as a lobbyist on behalf of the Trump Organization in the late 1990s and early 2000s, according to public records. Around that time, he began counseling Mr. Trump on his political ambitions, and the two became friends.
Although Mr. Stone was sidelined from mainstream Republican politics following salacious revelations about his personal life in the mid-1990s, he continued to advise Mr. Trump for years, including helping to lead Mr. Trump’s aborted 2000 presidential campaign on the Reform Party ticket. He served on the Trump 2016 campaign when it started but severed ties in the summer of 2015.
Despite leaving his official role on the campaign, the two men remained in contact leading up to the 2016 election, according to testimony and phone logs introduced in court.
Witnesses testified that Mr. Stone relayed information about WikiLeaks’ plans directly to Mr. Trump and officials at the top of his campaign. Former campaign chairman Steve Bannon told jurors that the campaign considered Mr. Stone to be its “access point” to WikiLeaks, and former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates testified that Mr. Stone spoke about forthcoming WikiLeaks releases as early as April of 2016.
Mr. Stone has denied speaking to Mr. Trump about WikiLeaks, and Mr. Trump told the special counsel’s office he didn’t recall discussing WikiLeaks with Mr. Stone, according to written responses he provided to Mr. Mueller’s office last year.
While prosecutors argued Mr. Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee and effectively obstructed their investigation by withholding the name of another witness—conservative activist Jerome Corsi—the trial didn’t resolve questions about whether Messrs. Stone and Corsi and Trump had inside information about WikiLeaks’ plans.
In July of 2016, Mr. Stone and Mr. Corsi exchanged emails as they scrambled to learn more about the material the organization planned to release.
Days later, Mr. Corsi responded that WikiLeaks planned “2 more dumps,” including one in October. “Time to let more than Podesta be exposed as in bed w enemy,” Mr. Corsi wrote, referring to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Soon thereafter, Mr. Stone began boasting privately and publicly about his contact with Mr. Assange. Then, on Aug. 21, Mr. Stone tweeted: “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel” (sic). Weeks later, WikiLeaks began releasing emails stolen from Mr. Podesta, roiling the presidential race.
Mr. Corsi said he merely “figured out” that WikiLeaks had Mr. Podesta’s emails by using publicly available information, and both Mr. Corsi and Mr. Stone have denied being in touch with Mr. Assange directly or indirectly. Mr. Stone has also maintained that his tweet was related to the lobbying activities of Mr. Podesta and his brother Tony.
Mr. Assange has denied being in communication with Mr. Stone.
Mr. Corsi publicly rejected a plea deal from Mueller’s team last year. He said that while he was “constantly amending testimony,” he never intentionally lied to prosecutors. He also acknowledged deleting emails in which he and Mr. Stone discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks, though he denied wrongdoing and was never prosecuted.
To shield Mr. Corsi from scrutiny in the congressional probe, Mr. Stone falsely told lawmakers that he only had one “backchannel” to WikiLeaks, naming radio personality Randy Credico, prosecutors said. They argued that Mr. Stone corruptly persuaded Mr. Credico to lie to the House committee and even avoid testifying.
The other Trump associates who have been convicted in connection with the Mueller investigation are: Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman, convicted by a jury of financial crimes; Mr. Gates, former deputy chairman of the campaign, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and false statements; former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who pleaded guilty to false statements; former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to false statements, tax charges and campaign finance allegations; and George Papadopoulos, a low-level campaign aide who pleaded guilty to lying.
A columnist for The Washington Post and author of the Pulitzer-winning Gulag, Applebaum has been writing about Russia since the 1990s. Her fifth book is a detailed study of Stalin’s 1929 policy of agricultural collectivization, which set off the worst famine in European history. Some five million people died between 1931 and 1933 in the USSR. Of these, roughly three million were Ukrainians, and Applebaum definitively shows that they died due to deliberate government policy. Drawing on newly opened archives and personal accounts not previously translated, Applebaum substantiates the stories that Stalin suppressed Ukrainian uprisings by closing the borders, stopping food shipments, and letting the rebellious peasants starve.
(32 min): wrote about the Ukranianism of American politics with Paul Manafort
Search out far left and far right. They don’t invent, but they do fund.
Question: how do we divide people.
[Stalin] writing in private you know what he
writes to Kaganovich and these other
sidekicks he believes his ideology and
one of the things that’s important about
them about the Bolsheviks is they
believed that Marxism wasn’t just some
kind of theory and it could be money
they believed that it was a science and
it was true and it’s even more common
because it’s science and it’s true and
we define what it is and that means that
whatever we’ve said you know is true and
this is this is how things are going to
be and if it doesn’t work out in reality
the way we thought it was going to then
somebody else is responsible and who’s
responsible saboteurs wreckers kulaks
enemies of the people enemies of the
state you know and I actually believe
now that a lot of the you know a lot of
the violence the kinds kind of cycles of
violence you have in the Soviet Union
1932 and 33 you had the famine a few
years later you had the purges of 1937
and you have cyclical violence and
that’s almost always a response to
policy failure you know it hasn’t worked
the revolution hasn’t brought prosperity
and made us happy there has to be a
reason for it
okay you know let’s find the let’s find
the the parasites who are sucking the
blood of the revolution and get rid of
them and so that was you know and so the
so so your point you know your logical
point okay well look this agricultural
policy hasn’t worked let’s change it
that’s not how they thought you know it
wasn’t let’s change it love wheat you
know it’s not our policy that needs to
change it’s you know
the people in reality that has to adjust
our way of thinking and anyways I said I
Manafort sought judicial compassion. On Thursday, he got it.
Judge T.S. Ellis III on Thursday gave Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, a notably light prison sentence of less than four years, confounding experts and those who practice regularly in the federal courts.
Mr. Manafort, convicted last summer on charges of tax evasion, bank fraud and related criminality uncovered by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, faced 19 to 24 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
The leniency shown by Judge Ellis, of the Federal District Court in Alexandria, Va., toward Mr. Manafort carries the whiff of miscarriage of justice, especially given how the criminal justice system routinely treats people without Mr. Manafort’s wealth, influence or skin color.
.. But if the failed war on drugs and the era of mass incarceration have taught us anything, it is that there are two tracks of justice: one for those who can afford expensive defense counsel and who can move heaven and earth to receive mercy, and one for everyone else. People like Mr. Manafort, when caught cheating taxpayers of millions of dollars, receive discretion and kid-glove treatment, while drug dealers and less sophisticated defendants — in Judge Ellis’s courtroom and elsewhere — are subject to draconian mandatory minimum sentences.
.. During a revealing moment early in Thursday’s hearing, Judge Ellis said Mr. Manafort was “not before this court for anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government to influence this election.” This is true. But collusion, as Judge Ellis surely knows, is not a federal crime, and it is not mentioned in the appointment order that gave Mr. Mueller his mandate in May 2017. Rather, it’s a term of art that Mr. Trump and his defenders have abused to misdirect the public about the true nature of the special counsel investigation.
.. “Manafort’s criminal conduct was serious, longstanding, and bold,” Mr. Mueller’s team told Judge Ellis in a sentencing submission filed last month. “He failed to pay taxes in five successive years involving more than $16 million in unreported income — and failed to identify his overseas accounts in those same returns — resulting in more than $6 million in unpaid taxes.”
To federal prosecutors, Mr. Manafort “benefited from the protections and privileges of the law and the services of his government, while cheating it and his fellow citizens.”.. “Manafort’s effort to shift the blame to others — as he did at trial — is not consistent with acceptance of responsibility or a mitigating factor,” prosecutors wrote.
Amid the furor, including from former judges, over Judge Ellis’s apparent lack of impartiality during the Manafort trial last year, I was among those who gave him the benefit of the doubt. Judges often play hardball with prosecutors and defense lawyers, my thinking went, and Judge Ellis had already recognized, in declining to toss out Mr. Mueller’s indictment against Mr. Manafort ahead of trial, that the charges “clearly arise out of the special counsel’s investigation into thepayments defendant allegedly received from Russian-backed leaders and pro-Russian political officials.”
Mr. Manafort has shown no contrition for his misdeeds, or for his recalcitrance since the special counsel first charged him. And Judge Ellis ignored all that, doing a disservice to justice.
The judge’s mercy may be the closest Mr. Manafort will get to a presidential pardon. But that may not keep him from begging for one. Mr. Trump, who has praised Mr. Manafort as a “brave man” and lamented that his own Justice Department had charged Mr. Manafort with tax crimes that were only peripheral to the Russia investigation, has refused to rule it out.
America produced a corrupt president. We can do better.
.. Elijah Cummings, the Oversight Committee chairman, pined for a return to a pre-Trump America. “We have got to get back to normal,” he said.
But Normal America produced Donald Trump, fueled his cult of personality and created the conditions for him to rise to the height of political power. If anything, Michael Cohen’s testimony was a devastating indictment of decisions that Normal America made over the past few decades that produced President Trump in 2016.
Most of the charges — proven or alleged — against those caught up in the Mueller investigation are not obviously related to treasonous collusion with Moscow. It’s proof, the president’s blinkered backers bray, that the whole inquiry is a waste of time.
Read another way, that set of facts shows how decades of declining prosecutions of white-collar crimes may have allowed Paul Manafort, a man guilty of tax evasion and bank fraud, to lead a presidential campaign. If the number of white-collar crimes prosecuted by the Justice Department had not fallen more than 40 percent in the past 20 years, perhaps Mr. Cohen, who committed tax fraud and bank fraud, might not have ascended to become deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, a post he held until June 2018.
Then there’s the president himself, Exhibit A of what happens when a country spends decades treating crimes by the poor as felonies and crimes by the powerful as misdemeanors.
At the start of Mr. Trump’s career, he and his father were charged with discriminating against African-Americans in their apartment rentals. Father and son settled with the government and admitted no wrongdoing.
Later in life, Mr. Trump’s casino was charged with money laundering and got off with a fine. Just after Mr. Trump was elected, his cardboard castle of a university that bore his name settled a class-action lawsuit brought by from former students.
It took a shoe-leather investigation by The Washington Post to prompt authorities to assess that the Trump Foundation, founded in 1987, was being used as the family A.T.M. The New York State attorney general charged the foundation with “improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law.” Imagine if the foundation had been scrutinized years before Mr. Trump ran for president.
Democrats, paging through the catalog of legal malfeasance connected to the president, worry that investigating too many of them will make the party vulnerable to claims of overreach. But exuberance in defense of justice is no vice, so as long as they don’t go full #Benghazi. After all, accountability has been in short supply of late.
There are several kinds of success stories. We emphasize the ones starring brilliant inventors and earnest toilers. We celebrate sweat and stamina. We downplay the schemers, the short cuts and the subterfuge. But for every ambitious person who has the goods and is prepared to pay his or her dues, there’s another who doesn’t and is content to play the con. In the Trump era and the Trump orbit, these ambassadors of a darker side of the American dream have come to the fore.
.. What a con Holmes played with Theranos. For those unfamiliar with the tale, which the journalist John Carreyrou told brilliantly in “Bad Blood,” she dropped out of Stanford at 19 to pursue her Silicon Valley dream, intent on becoming a billionaire and on claiming the same perch in our culture and popular imagination that Steve Jobs did. She modeled her work habits and management style after his. She dressed as he did, in black turtlenecks. She honed a phony voice, deeper than her real one.
She spoke, with immaculate assurance, of a day when it might be on everyone’s bathroom counter: a time saver, a money saver and quite possibly a lifesaver. She sent early, imperfect versions of it to Walgreens pharmacies, which used it and thus doled out erroneous diagnoses to patients. She blocked peer reviews of it and buried evidence of its failures.
This went on not for months but for years, as Holmes attracted more than $900 million of investment money and lured a breathtakingly distinguished board of directors including two former secretaries of state, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger; a former secretary of defense, William Perry; and a future secretary of defense, James Mattis. What they had before them wasn’t proof or even the sturdy promise of revolutionary technology. It was a self-appointed wunderkind who struck a persuasive pose and talked an amazing game.
She was eventually found out, and faces criminal charges that could put her in prison. But there’s no guarantee of that. Meantime she lives in luxury. God bless America.
Theranos was perhaps an outlier in the scope of its deceptions, but not in the deceptions themselves. In an article titled “The Ugly Unethical Underside of Silicon Valley” in Fortune magazine in December 2016, Erin Griffith tallied a list of aborted ventures with more shimmer and swagger than substance, asserting: “As the list of start-up scandals grows, it’s time to ask whether entrepreneurs are taking ‘fake it till you make it’ too far.”
Dozens of interviews, court filings and other documents show Mr. Kilimnik to be an operator who moved easily between Russian, Ukrainian and American patrons, playing one off the other while leaving a jumble of conflicting suspicions in his wake. The effort to disentangle the mysteries surrounding him seems likely to leave questions even after the conclusion of the special counsel’s work.
To American diplomats in Washington and Kiev, he has been a well-known character for nearly a decade, developing a reputation as a broker of valuable information like the alliances of Ukraine’s oligarchs and the country’s handling of foreign investment and sensitive criminal cases.
.. Prosecutors have also scrutinized the effort by Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik to drum up political consulting business with Kremlin-aligned political figures in Ukraine and Russia who were pushing plans to end the simmering conflict between the countries.
Those so-called peace plans could have resulted in the easing of sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States — a policy shift to which Mr. Trump had signaled an openness during the campaign and one that would have been a major foreign policy victory for the Kremlin.
.. To some of those he encountered, he was an impish, 5-foot-tall cynic whose American associates nicknamed him “Carry-on” or “KK” and who was rejected for a job with an oil company in Moscow in late 2003 or early 2004 because he was seen as too meek.
At the same time, he did little to defuse long-running suspicions that he was a Russian agent. And his involvement in discussions related to back-channel peace negotiations between Ukraine and Russia attracted attention from President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, which saw him as a functionary for oligarchs working to sell out Ukraine to Moscow’s benefit, a former United States official said.
Mr. Kilimnik, 49, who has Russian citizenship, now lives in Moscow. He is unlikely to ever face obstruction of justice charges that the special counsel brought against him and Mr. Manafort. And the once chatty operative — who was known for kibitzing with reporters, diplomats and political consultants over WhatsApp and in the bar of the Hyatt hotel in Kiev — has gone dark.
Mr. Kilimnik quickly made himself indispensable to Mr. Manafort, who spoke neither Ukrainian nor Russian. At the time, Mr. Manafort worked as a political and business consultant to the Ukrainian steel and coal oligarch Rinat L. Akhmetov, as well as the Russian aluminum oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska.
Mr. Kilimnik traveled extensively with Mr. Manafort, accompanying him to all his meetings and eventually becoming known as “Manafort’s Manafort” in Kiev.
“Paul took Konstantin under his wing, not just as a protégé but as his own surrogate son,” Mr. Caputo said.
Mr. Gates, who joined Mr. Manafort’s Ukraine team the year after Mr. Kilimnik and has since pleaded guilty to charges brought by Mr. Mueller stemming from his work there, later told an associate he knew that Mr. Kilimnik was a former officer with the G.R.U., according to a court filing by Mr. Mueller’s team.
In a February 2017 interview with The New York Times in Kiev, Mr. Kilimnik denied ever serving in a Russian intelligence agency. “What would I do if I were a real Russian spy?” he said. “I would not be here. I would be in Russia.”
But for the politicians and oligarchs who were Mr. Manafort’s clients, Mr. Kilimnik’s suspected intelligence connections suggested a seal of approval from Moscow. That was an important selling point, especially when combined with Mr. Manafort’s connections. The perception in political circles in Kiev was that hiring Mr. Manafort’s team would open doors in Washington and Moscow.
Mr. Akhmetov persuaded Mr. Manafort to try to resuscitate the political career of the former Ukrainian prime minister Viktor F. Yanukovych, a Russia-aligned figure who lost the 2004 presidential election amid allegations of vote-rigging.
In Mr. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, Mr. Kilimnik was “known as the representative of Russia,” said Taras V. Chernovyl, a former party member.
With help from Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik, Mr. Yanukovych won the presidency in 2010.
Mr. Manafort, who was not known for spreading the wealth among his subordinates, paid Mr. Kilimnik $530,000 for “professional services and administrative overhead for Kiev operations” from June 2013 to January 2014, according to Justice Department lobbying filings, which show that Mr. Manafort’s company was paid $17 million over a two-year stretch around that time.
.. By then, Mr. Kilimnik was married with two children. His family lived in a modest house not far from Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, where he traveled most weekends. But he lived a parallel life in Kiev, where he embraced trappings of his boss’s jet-setting lifestyle, trading the khakis and sweaters he wore at I.R.I. for tailored suits, a chauffeur-driven German car and evenings at an estate with a pool.
Things started going south for Mr. Yanukovych and, by extension, Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik, in late 2013, as mass protests erupted over the government’s corruption and pivot toward Russia. Mr. Yanukovych stepped down and fled in February 2014, eventually arriving in Moscow.
Russia began a military incursion into eastern Ukraine in 2014. And Mr. Kilimnik leveraged his access to American diplomats for a new endeavor.
He turned up in Donetsk as the city was slipping into war, presenting himself as having “the State Department’s ear, the American ear in general,” said Aleksei Kovzhun, a member of a group of pro-Ukrainian political advisers working there.
.. Mr. Kilimnik joined their ranks, and in emails reviewed by The Times, he encouraged them to appease the Russian-speaking population, who, he wrote, merely wanted “stable work, good salaries and a turn to the better for their children.”
The American Embassy was overly focused on the Russian military threat, he said. “The whole American Embassy is counting barricades,” he wrote, adding about the United States diplomats he was in contact with, “the idiots.”
In hindsight, Mr. Kovzhun said, “I can see that he could easily be a Russian agent who just came to monitor the situation, and be in the center of pro-Ukrainian power in the region.”
With their primary benefactor in exile, Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik sought business with Russia-aligned factions that arose from the ashes of Mr. Yanukovych’s party.
A common goal for these factions was to pursue initiatives to settle the Ukraine conflict on terms seen by many in the country as favorable to Russia, and as an opening for an effort to persuade the United States and its allies to lift sanctions on Moscow.
Among the Russia-aligned Ukrainians they advised was Oleksandr V. Klymenko, who was a minister in Mr. Yanukovych’s government. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik discussed plans to conduct polling in connection with a possible bid by Mr. Klymenko for president of Ukraine in 2019, even though he was living in exile in Moscow and under European Union sanctions, according to three people briefed on their activities.
Another client was a party backed by Serhiy Lyovochkin, a television company owner who served as Mr. Yanukovych’s chief of staff. The party, known as Opposition Bloc, had fallen behind in paying Mr. Manafort’s invoices, according to Mr. Kilimnik and other people familiar with the situation, and the pair hoped to persuade Mr. Lyovochkin to turn the spigot back on.
.. The situation was on Mr. Kilimnik’s agenda when he headed to the United States within a month of Mr. Manafort’s joining the Trump campaign, telling associates in Kiev that he also hoped to meet with Mr. Trump and to potentially work with his campaign in some capacity.
A White House spokesman said Mr. Trump was introduced to thousands of people during the 2016 campaign. While it is possible he met with Mr. Kilimnik, “the president has no recollection of it,” the spokesman said.
Around the time of Mr. Kilimnik’s trip to the United States in spring 2016, Mr. Manafort directed Mr. Gates to transfer some polling data to Mr. Kilimnik, including public polling and some developed by a private polling company working for the campaign, according to a person with knowledge of the arrangement.
Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to Mr. Lyovochkin and Mr. Akhmetov, the person said. Representatives for both Mr. Lyovochkin and Mr. Akhmetov said they neither requested nor received the data, and would have had no use for it.
Mr. Mueller’s team has focused on what appears to have been another discussion about polling data in New York on Aug. 2, 2016. A partly redacted court transcript suggests that Mr. Gates, who entered a plea agreement with the special counsel that requires his cooperation, may have told prosecutors that Mr. Manafort had walked Mr. Kilimnik through detailed polling data at a meeting that day in the cigar lounge of the Grand Havana Room in Manhattan.
.. The meeting also included a conversation about one Ukrainian “peace plan,” according to court filings.
Prosecutors contend that Mr. Manafort lied to them about the meeting and other interactions with Mr. Kilimnik. Those lies, a federal judge ruled, violated Mr. Manafort’s agreement to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for consideration of a reduced sentence related to his work in Ukraine.
Mr. Manafort’s lies about his interactions with Mr. Kilimnik gave “rise to legitimate questions about where his loyalties lie,” Judge Amy Berman Jackson said.
.. Just before Mr. Manafort was forced to resign from the Trump campaign in mid-August 2016 amid scrutiny of his work in Ukraine, the F.B.I. opened an investigation into the campaign’s possible ties to Russia.
It led to a guilty plea by Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, for lying to the F.B.I. about conversations with the Russian ambassador related to the sanctions.
By the inauguration, investigators were focusing on Mr. Kilimnik and his connections to Mr. Manafort.
Yet Mr. Kilimnik again traveled to the United States for Mr. Trump’s inauguration, meeting in the Washington area with Mr. Manafort, according to Mr. Mueller’s team.
.. While the trip was not publicly revealed until nearly two years later, it was on the F.B.I.’s radar. Peter Strzok, the agent who oversaw the bureau’s investigation of Russian interference in the election until he was reassigned and later fired for sending text messages critical of Mr. Trump, expressed frustration when he learned that Mr. Kilimnik had come and gone without being interviewed by agents.
Yet Mr. Kilimnik again traveled to the United States for Mr. Trump’s inauguration, meeting in the Washington area with Mr. Manafort, according to Mr. Mueller’s team.
While the trip was not publicly revealed until nearly two years later, it was on the F.B.I.’s radar. Peter Strzok, the agent who oversaw the bureau’s investigation of Russian interference in the election until he was reassigned and later fired for sending text messages critical of Mr. Trump, expressed frustration when he learned that Mr. Kilimnik had come and gone without being interviewed by agents.
“Everything is completely falling off the rails,” Mr. Strzok wrote in a text to a colleague on Jan. 23, 2017 — three days after the inauguration — referring to the missed opportunity.
The month after the inauguration, Mr. Kilimnik and Mr. Manafort met again and discussed a poll being planned for Mr. Klymenko’s prospective presidential campaign, according to court filings and interviews.
The poll was not conducted, according to people familiar with the arrangement, and Mr. Klymenko ultimately did not run.
In previously unpublished messages to The Times around the time of that meeting, Mr. Kilimnik suggested that the escalating news coverage was making him a target in both Ukraine and Russia.
“After another surge of attention, I am sure I will finally get on the radar screen of the Russian authorities,” he wrote.
Mr. Manafort’s allies point out that Mr. Mueller’s team has not publicly presented any evidence that Mr. Kilimnik is a Russian agent. They argue that it is unlikely that he is an agent because he was able to travel freely to the United States and deal regularly with its officials. To buttress this case, Mr. Manafort’s lawyers requested and received records from the government showing that Mr. Kilimnik communicated with officials at the American Embassy in Kiev.
“If he was a Russian intelligence asset, then the State Department officials who met with him over the years should be under investigation,” Mr. Caputo said.