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Cockburn

Did Manafort collude with Russia through ‘Person A’?

Trump is half right – the Manafort trial did not produce evidence of ‘Russia collusion’

March 8, 2019

1:54 PM

8 March 2019

1:54 PM

Forty-seven months?!?! Paul Manafort’s relatively light sentence was far less than the 19-24 years that Mueller’s prosecutors had demanded and below the sentencing guidelines. Across what President Trump likes to call the ‘fake news,’ there was a howl of frustrated schadenfreude. (Cockburn wonders if there ought to be word for that – enttäuschtschadenfreude?) But wait, Manafort still has to be sentenced in another court for ‘conspiracy against the United States,’ that is trying to obstruct justice by getting witnesses to lie. He could get another 10 years for that. Get out the party hats and streamers!

Handing down the sentence last night, Judge T. S. Ellis III said, curiously, that Manafort had ‘lived an otherwise blameless life.’ As our own Rick Wilson wrote elsewhere, has the judge not heard of ‘The Google’? In reality, Manafort had ‘lived a life of opulence…fueled by a career made by serving the worst authoritarians, dictators, warlords, and shit-tier human rights abusers he could scrape out of the gutter to monetize.’ The Google would have shown Judge Ellis this piece in The Spectator about how Manafort made his fortune working for a Ukrainian president who’d started out as a petty thief, stealing fur hats from men squatting to use the outhouses of Soviet Donetsk. This was considered low, even among the criminals of Donetsk.

The problem was that Manafort’s money in Ukraine – tens of millions of dollars of it – ultimately came from oligarchs loyal to Moscow. The accusation from Trump’s critics was that the Russians would have known how Manafort was paid – that he was hiding millions offshore – and they would have used this knowledge to blackmail him, to put him inside the Trump campaign. But those claims were not made at Manafort’s trial in Virginia – which was about tax fraud and money laundering. As Judge Ellis said at the very outset of the trial, Manafort was ‘not before this court for anything having to do with collusion with the Russian government to influence this election’.

President Trump, with his talent for inaccurate précis – a term that may resonate with British readers – said that the judge had confirmed there was ‘NO COLLUSION’. ‘Both the Judge and the lawyer in the Paul Manafort case stated loudly and for the world to hear that there was NO COLLUSION with Russia. But the Witch Hunt Hoax continues…’

This wasn’t true. The judge said only that the trial was not about collusion. Still, it’s a problem for the president’s accusers that the connection was not made between Manafort’s money and a supposed attempt by the Kremlin to penetrate the Trump campaign.

In fact, Mueller has made only one direct accusation about Manafort, the Russians, and the 2016 campaign.  It is that Manafort twice flew to secret meetings in Europe to hand over the Trump campaign’s polling data to his former Russian business partner, Konstantin Kilimnik. Trump’s critics believe the data would have been used by the Kremlin to accurately target the Russian trolls, bots and Facebook posts the US intelligence agencies say were being used to manipulate voters. But that claim is nowhere in Mueller’s court filings.

Kilimnik faces joint charges with Manafort of obstructing justice. There’s no chance whatsoever he will ever actually be tried on those charges as he lives in Moscow now. He’s often written about as an agent of Russian military intelligence, the GRU.  He is ‘Person A’ in some of Mueller’s court filings: ‘Person A has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.’ But Cockburn understands that at least one witness for Mueller’s prosecutors has given evidence that Kilimnik was just a ‘hustler’ and not being run by the GRU. Maybe that’s true; maybe that’s preposterous, but so far no detailed evidence has been produced in public either way. As Mueller prepares to hand in his final report, we still don’t know whether or not he will set out the case for a Russia ‘conspiracy’ that touches the president, or something much smaller than that.


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