Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia took a dramatic turn today with the revelation that Rick Gates, Trump’s 2016 Deputy Campaign Chairman, was knowingly in contact with a Russian spy in the lead-up to the election.
It cannot be stressed enough what a stunning development this represents. A high-ranking official in the Trump campaign has been outright accused by Mueller of working with Russian intelligence.
The Washington Post reported the story, citing court documents filed by prosecutors yesterday. Gates, along with his associate former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, was indicted this past October. The charges included conspiracy against the United States and money laundering. Last month, Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI.
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The Russian intelligence officer in question appears to be Konstantin Kilimnik, one of Manafort’s managers for his lobbying company in Kiev, Ukraine. So far, he denies his ties to Russian intel although he admits to serving in the Russian military.
The documents were filed as part of the sentencing of Alex van der Zwaan, a former associate of Manafort’s who pleaded guilty to lying about his interactions with Manafort and “Person A,” the Russian spy.
Van der Zwaan failed to originally tell investigators that he knew Gates had been in contact with Person A and that Gates had said Person A was a former GRU officer. GRU is the foreign intelligence agency of the Russian Federation. The filing adds that Person A “has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.”
This development is the most direct connection between the Trump campaign and Russia to date. It shows that not only were Trump team members in contact with Russian intelligence but more importantly that they knew they were in contact with spies. The next step is to figure out if and when Donald Trump himself became aware of his team’s Russian collusion.
If this bombshell is a sign of things to come, the president should be very, very worried. Mueller certainly has all kinds of evidence and threads that the general public won’t hear about for some time, but he’s clearly pushing Trump into a corner. Hopefully, we won’t be saddled with our hateful, incompetent leader much longer.