Kilimnik speaks, and evidence backs ‘no collusion’ account

The man cast as a linchpin of debunked Trump-Russia collusion theories is breaking his silence to vigorously dispute the U.S. government’s effort to brand him a Russian spy and put him behind bars.

In an exclusive interview with RealClearInvestigations, Konstantin Kilimnik stated, “I have no relationship whatsoever to any intelligence services, be they Russian or Ukrainian or American, or anyone else.”

Kilimnik, a longtime employee of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, spoke out in response to an explosive Treasury Department statement declaring that he had “provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy” during the 2016 election. That press release, which announced an array of sanctions on Russian nationals last month, also alleged that Kilimnik is a “known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf.”

Treasury‘s claim came shortly after two other accusatory U.S. government statements about the dual Ukrainian-Russian national. In March, a U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment accused Kilimnik of being a “Russian influence agent” who meddled in the 2020 campaign to assist Trump’s reelection. A month earlier, an FBI alert offered $250,000 for information leading to his arrest over a 2018 witness tampering charge in Manafort’s shuttered Ukraine lobbying case, which was unrelated to Russia, collusion, or any elections.

Treasury provided no evidence for its claims, which go beyond the findings of the two most extensive Russiagate investigations: the 448-page report issued in 2019 by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the 966-page report issued in August 2020 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Treasury has declined all media requests for elaboration on how it reached conclusions that those probes did not. Two unidentified officials told NBC News that U.S. intelligence “has developed new information” about Kilimnik “that leads them to believe” (emphasis added) that he passed on the polling data to Russia. But these  sources “did not identify the source or type of intelligence that had been developed,” nor “when or how” it was received.

“Nobody has seen any evidence to support these claims about Kilimnik,” a congressional source familiar with the House and Senate’s multiple Russia-related investigations told RCI.

Despite the absence of evidence, the Treasury press release’s one-sentence claim about Kilimnik has been widely greeted as the Trump-Russia smoking gun. Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who heads the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC that Treasury’s assertion about Kilimnik proved that Russian intelligence was “involved in trying to help Trump win in that [2016] election. That’s what most people would call collusion.”

Speaking to RCI in fluent English from his home in Moscow, Kilimnik, 51, described these U.S. government assertions as “senseless and false accusations.”

His comments are backed up by documents, some previously unreported, as well as by Rick Gates, a longtime Manafort associate and key Mueller probe cooperating witness. (Gates pleaded guilty to making a false statement and to failing to register as a foreign agent in connection to his lobbying work in Ukraine.) The evidence raises doubts about new efforts to revive the Trump-Kremlin collusion narrative by casting Kilimnik as a central Russian figure.

“They needed a Russian to investigate ‘Russia collusion,’ and I happened to be that Russian,” Kilimnik said.

Highlights from the interview and RCI’s related reporting:

  • Kilimnik denies passing 2016 polling data to Russian intelligence, or any Russian for that matter. Instead, Kilimnik says he shared publicly available, general information about the 2016 American presidential race to Ukrainian clients of Manafort’s in a bid to recover old debts and drum up new business. Gates told RCI that the Mueller team “cherry-picked” his testimony about Kilimnik to spread a misleading, collusion-favorable narrative. The U.S. government has never publicly produced the polling data at issue, nor any evidence that it was shared with Russia.
  • Despite his centrality to the Trump-Russia saga, Kilimnik says no U.S. government official has ever tried get in touch with him. “I never had a single contact with [the] FBI or any government official,” Kilimnik says.
  • Kilimnik shared documents that contradict the Special Counsel’s effort to prove that he has Russian intelligence “ties.” Photos and video of his Russian passport and a U.S. visa in his name, shared with RCI, undermine the Mueller report’s claim that Kilimnik visited the United States on a Russian “diplomatic passport” in 1997. To judge from the images, he traveled on a civilian passport and obtained a regular U.S. visa. The Mueller team has never produced the “diplomatic passport.”
  • Kilimnik denies traveling to Spain to meet Manafort in 2017. If true, this would undercut the Mueller team’s claim that Manafort lied in denying such a meeting. That denial was used to help secure a 2019 court ruling that Manafort breached a cooperation agreement. The Special Counsel never furnished evidence for the alleged Madrid encounter.
  • While the Treasury Department and Senate Intelligence Committee claim that Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer, no U.S. security or intelligence agency has adopted this characterization.
  • Kilimnik has never been charged with anything related to espionage, Russia, collusion, or the 2016 election. Instead, the Mueller team indicted Kilimnik on witness-tampering charges in a case pertaining to Manafort’s lobbying work in Ukraine.
  • Meanwhile, the FBI’s $250,000 bounty for Kilimnik is larger than most rewards it offers for the capture of violent fugitives, including those accused of child murder. 

Reviving the Polling Data Conspiracy Theory

Kilminik has provided an inviting target for proponents of Trump-Russia conspiracy theories. He was born in 1970 in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union, and later worked for Paul Manafort as a translator and aide there. This background makes him one of the few people in the broad Trump 2016 campaign orbit to possess a Russian passport.

To this Mueller and others have added a series of ambiguous and disputed allegations to say that the FBI “assesses” him to “have ties to Russian intelligence.” This characterization, first made in a 2017 court filing, quickly transmogrified into a presumed fact of the collusion narrative.

Rather than prosecute Manafort for any crime related to Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, the Mueller team instead pursued him on financial and lobbying charges involving his pre-Trump stint as a political consultant in Ukraine. In 2018, it accused Kilimnik of seeking to pressure two “potential witnesses” by sending them text messages about Manafort’s Ukraine lobbying work.