Robert Mueller's team has drawn the first direct line between the Russian government and Donald Trump's campaign. Court filings by Mueller's investigators allege that Rick Gates, an advisor to the 2016 Trump campaign, was in contact with a known “former Russian intelligence officer” during September and October 2016. Gates was on the staff of the Trump campaign at the time.
The revelation came from the testimony of London-based attorney, Alex van der Zwaan, who said that he was told by Gates that his business associate in the in Ukraine was a “former Russian intelligence officer” with the GRU, Russian military intelligence. The court filings cited by the Wall Street Journal say that van der Zwaan admitted to concealing the fact that he and Gates had been in contact with the Russian just prior to the election. The conversations allegedly concerned the possibility of criminal prosecution in Ukraine for the activities of van der Zwaan and others under the previous pro-Putin regime.
Rick Gates and Paul Manafort worked in the Ukraine for supporters of Viktor Yanukovych from 2004 through 2014. Earlier this year, Gates and Manafort were indicted on charges of money-laundering and making false statements relating to their time in the Ukraine. Gates pled guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mueller's investigation.
Paul Manafort was hired to be Donald Trump's campaign manager in the spring of 2016 and Gates joined the campaign at the same time. Manafort was fired in August over his Russia connections, but Gates remained until after the election and worked on Trump's inaugural committee, only leaving as the Russia investigations heated up. The Daily Beast reported that Gates still had access to White House advisors as late as June 2017 without the president's knowledge.
The Russian agent is not named in the court filings and is referred to only as “Person A.” The filings state, “The lies and withholding of documents were material to the Special Counsel’s Office’s investigation. That Gates and Person A were directly communicating in September and October 2016 was pertinent to the investigation. Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel’s Office assess that Person A has ties to Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016. During his first interview with the Special Counsel’s Office, van der Zwaan admitted that he knew of that connection, stating that Gates told him Person A was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with GRU.”
The Wall Street Journal has identified “Person A” as Konstantin Kilimnik. The Journal notes that Kilimnik was a language instructor at the Institute of Foreign Languages and has denied being a spy.
Van der Zwaan is a Dutch national and the son-in-law of German Kahn, a Russian billionaire. He currently lives in a hotel in New York. As a member of an international law firm, van der Zwaan worked with Gates and Manafort on matters relating to the Ukraine. His lawyers say that he lied to Mueller to protect his job rather than to hinder the Russia investigation.
Gates' attorneys had no comment on the new allegations.
The filings by Mueller provide a direct link between the Russian government and an active member of the Trump campaign, but the trail does not go all the way to the president. The Daily Beast report on Gates notes that he was not liked by President Trump. One Trump campaign aide called him Trump's “whipping boy.”
Thus far, the court filings fall short of proving collusion or illegal activity relating to the campaign beyond making false statements to the FBI. The contacts allegedly deal with previous activities in the Ukraine rather than the 2016 election.
The new revelation will make it more difficult for President Trump to end the Mueller investigation. With direct links between members of his campaign and the Russian government, it would politically untenable to fire Mr. Mueller, even if the president feels more pressure to do so.
Originally published on The Resurgent