Strong hint of col­lu­sion

San Francisco Chronicle - - OPINION -

That Don­ald Trump’s for­mer cam­paign chair­man pro­vided polling data to a sus­pected Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence as­so­ciate seem­ingly un­der­mines an­other ag­gres­sively cap­i­tal­ized pres­i­den­tial mantra: that there was “NO COL­LU­SION.” The ex­change of valu­able po­lit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion be­tween rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Trump’s cam­paign and Vladimir Putin’s regime shows that the two en­ti­ties were, to some ex­tent, col­lud­ing.

In the spring of 2016, while Trump was seek­ing the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, for­mer cam­paign chair­man and cur­rent con­victed felon Paul Manafort shared the data with Kon­stantin Kil­imnik, whom the FBI has linked to Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence, re­port­edly for fur­ther dis­tri­bu­tion to pro-Rus­sia Ukrainian oli­garchs. Manafort’s own lawyers ap­pear to have in­ad­ver­tently re­vealed the con­tact this week in re­spond­ing to al­le­ga­tions that their client de­ceived Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tors about Kil­imnik and other mat­ters de­spite hav­ing agreed to co­op­er­ate with them.

While the na­ture and util­ity of the in­for­ma­tion re­main un­known, Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee re­ports have de­tailed the savvy with which a Krem­lin-led so­cial me­dia cam­paign tar­geted mes­sages to boost Trump’s sup­port and dis­cour­age those likely to vote for Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton. It’s the

sort of effort that could have ben­e­fited from closely held, high-priced in­ter­nal polling data.

It’s not clear whether Trump him­self was aware of Manafort’s ac­tiv­i­ties. The op­er­a­tive had long­stand­ing ties to Rus­sia, hav­ing run a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign for Putin’s man in Ukraine, Vik­tor Yanukovych, and amassed debts to a Rus­sian oli­garch and Putin ally, Oleg Deri­paska, all of which could have mo­ti­vated him to ped­dle in­for­ma­tion for his own rea­sons. That said, this isn’t an iso­lated in­stance of con­tact be­tween the cam­paign and Rus­sia. The Trump Tower meet­ing in­volv­ing Trump’s el­dest son and a Krem­lin-linked lawyer is an­other in­fa­mous ex­am­ple.

The pres­i­dent, for his part, has al­ready said he “didn’t know any­thing about” Manafort’s ex­change with Kil­imnik. The trou­ble is that he also once falsely de­nied knowl­edge of pay­offs to two women who al­leged ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs with him. More­over, any effort to dis­tance him­self from or dis­par­age Manafort will be com­pli­cated by his ef­fu­sive praise for the for­mer cam­paign chair­man when he was de­fy­ing Mueller.

Manafort’s lawyers ac­knowl­edged that their client and Kil­imnik also dis­cussed a peace plan for Ukraine, where Rus­sia has sup­ported sep­a­ratist war­fare and seized Crimea. The 2016 soften­ing of the Repub­li­can plat­form’s stance on Ukraine was among Trump’s early pol­icy gifts to Rus­sia, which have con­tin­ued long af­ter Manafort’s ser­vice. On Thursday, Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin ap­peared be­fore a con­gres­sional com­mit­tee to de­fend lift­ing sanc­tions on com­pa­nies linked to Deri­paska — more po­ten­tial fruits of a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the Trump cam­paign op­er­a­tive and Rus­sia.

Tom Toles / Wash­ing­ton Post

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