More shitzle on Manafort & The Russian Connection

The new Russia revelations are more consequential than Trump’s newsless immigration speech

The spectacular rise and fall of Paul Manafort   by James Hohmann in the WaPo Daily 202 – Jan 9th, 2019

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THE BIG IDEA: President Trump showed last night why he waited two years to address the country from the Oval Office in prime time. The format doesn’t suit him. He feeds off the energy of crowds and excels at being improvisational. He sounded stilted as he squinted to read unmemorable remarks from a teleprompter. Sitting behind the Resolute Desk, boxed in by a tight camera shot, made him look smaller than he does when he stands behind a podium with the presidential seal, recorded by a wide-angle lens.

The former reality TV star, a consummate showman, didn’t convey his usual passion. This might be why he just didn’t seem that into it: “In an off-the-record lunch with television anchors hours before the address, he made clear in blunt terms that he was not inclined to give the speech or go to Texas [tomorrow], but was talked into it by advisers,” the New York Times’s Peter Baker reports. “‘It’s not going to change a damn thing, but I’m still doing it,’ Mr. Trump said of the border visit. … The trip was merely a photo opportunity, he said. ‘But,’ he added, gesturing at his communications aides Bill Shine, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway, ‘these people behind you say it’s worth it.’”

Moreover, Trump made no real news from the bully pulpit. He did not declare a “national emergency,” something he continues to seriously consider, and he didn’t dangle any kind of deal that could get him his border wall in exchange for, say, protecting the “dreamers.” If anything, the Kabuki Theater only pushed the two parties further apart.

The more consequential story coming out of Tuesday was the result of a flub by Paul Manafort’s defense team. It accidentally revealed, because of botched redactions, that the former Trump campaign chairman allegedly shared 2016 presidential campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate the FBI has said has ties to Russian intelligence. Manafort’s attorneys were responding to allegations by special counsel Bob Mueller that the former Trump campaign chairman lied repeatedly to prosecutors after agreeing to cooperate.

The filing indicates “a pathway by which the Russians could have had access to Trump campaign data, Rachel Weiner, Spencer Hsu and Rosalind Helderman report. “The Russian citizen, who began working for Manafort’s consulting firm starting in 2005, has been charged with helping his former boss to obstruct Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 election. He is believed to be in Moscow. …

“According to the filing, Mueller also accused Manafort of lying about discussing a Ukrainian peace plan with Kilimnik during the 2016 campaign. ‘Manafort ‘conceded’ that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Mr. Kilimnik on more than one occasion,’ his attorneys quote the special counsel as saying, and ‘‘acknowledged’ that he and Mr. Kilimnik met while they were both in Madrid,’ without giving a date. Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, said the Madrid meeting took place in January or February 2017, after the presidential campaign was completed. He declined to comment on other pieces of the filing.”

“A person knowledgeable about the situation” tells the Times that both Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Trump clinched the Republican nomination: Most of the data was public, but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign, according to the person. Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who is close to the Kremlin and who has claimed that Mr. Manafort owed him money from a failed business venture, the person said,” per Sharon LaFraniere, Ken Vogel and Maggie Haberman.

— Several experts said the Deripaska connection makes this news a huge deal:

“Remember, the polling info Manafort passed to Kilimnik was headed to Deripaska, who is close to Putin,” said Steven Hall, the former chief of Russia operations at the CIA. “The margins the Russians needed to change in key states during the 2016 elections [were] pretty small. Now we know how they were able to be so precise: Paul Manafort was providing polling data to Russia.”

“Manafort, who knows Deripaska very well and isn’t a total idiot, thought internal campaign data was worth real money to the oligarch (i.e., to count against Manafort’s debt). That only makes sense if Deripaska was passing on to others — and that Manafort KNEW he was,” said David Burbach, who teaches national security and international relations at the Naval War College. “Deripaska himself would have more use for Arby’s BBQ sauce recipe.”

“Big story. New info,” said former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, a central figure in the Watergate scandal. “It’s called COLLUSION!”

“If proven, then call it by whatever c word that you want — collusion, cooperation, conspiracy — but this is serious,” said former U.S. ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul, a professor at Stanford University.

“This is potentially very significant evidence of collusion,” said Post columnist Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who advised the John McCain and Mitt Romney presidential campaigns on foreign policy but has emerged as a Trump critic. “Why would Manafort share polling data with the Russians unless it was to help them target their pro-Trump social media campaign?”

Atlantic writer David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, posed another question: “Did the flow of data to the Russians from the Trump campaign halt when Manafort was fired August 19, 2016? Or not?”

— “Internal polling data is precious. It reveals your strengths—and your weaknesses,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “Why share such valuable information with a foreign adversary—unless that adversary was really a friend?”  “It also bears asking, yet again, why someone like Manafort felt the need to allegedly lie about this stuff — especially at the expense of his cooperation agreement and further legal jeopardy he was well familiar with,” writes Aaron Blake.

—  Philip Bump argues that the revelation Manafort allegedly passed along polling is “more evocative than definitive”: “Perhaps there was a conduit for collusion that went from Trump to Manafort to Kilimnik to Russian intelligence. Or perhaps Manafort, ever the hustler, was working a hustle.”

— Last night, the Democratic leaders of seven House panels called on Steven Mnuchin to delay implementing a planned easing of sanctions on businesses tied to Deripaska until the Treasury Department briefs committee members. From Karoun Demirjian: “The committee chairs told Mnuchin they want the briefing to take place before Friday, as they are working against the clock if they want to stop the administration from acting on its mid-December announcement that it would roll back sanctions. … The Democratic leaders expressed particular alarm … about Deripaska, who ‘has abetted the Putin Regime’s malign activity against the United States,’ the lawmakers wrote.”

House Democrats believe that the Trump administration intentionally announced the relaxation of sanctions against Deripaska right before the Christmas holidays and the government shutdown to make the move harder to overturn. A law in 2017 allows Congress to block the president from reducing Russia-related sanctions, but they must act within 30 days of the announcement. Treasury made its announcement on Dec. 19.

— In related oversight news, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler is preparing to subpoena acting attorney general Matt Whitaker to testify about whether his relationship with Trump has influenced his oversight of Mueller’s probe. Nadler told Demirjian that the panel has been working since late November to set an interview date with Whitaker, and he’s been trying to stall. “If we don’t reach a date in the next day or two, we will subpoena him,” said the New York Democrat.

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