Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team just released a document that buries an important detail about the Trump circle’s ties to Russia on its fourth page: top campaign associate Rick Gates was in touch with a person tied to Russian military intelligence weeks before the presidential election.
The court papers, which call for the judge to give jail-time to a lawyer who has admitted lying to Mueller’s probe, say that in September and October 2016 Gates was “directly communicating” with “Person A,” whom he believed to be a former officer with the GRU—Russia’s military intelligence.
Gates had been number two to Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort until Manafort was fired in summer 2016. However, Gates continued working for the Republican National Committee until the election and afterwards took a senior position on Trump’s inaugural committee. He then went to work for a close friend of Trump’s and reportedly retained access to the White House until at least June 2017.
The Mueller probe revealed that Manafort had Russian intelligence ties last year (paywall), but the facts that Gates knew the same person—and remained in contact with him after Manafort’s firing—had not previously been disclosed. The papers make it clear that this is an important matter for the probe and highlight that Gates knew that “Person A” had been a GRU officer; Mueller’s team writes that documents about their communications were “material” and “pertinent to the investigation.” They also say that “Person A” still had ties to Russian intelligence in 2016.
“Person A’s” identity isn’t revealed but the documents say he is a foreign national who worked for Manafort’s firm. Several onlookers have noticed that the description closely matches Konstantin Kilimnik, who ran Manafort’s Kyiv office, studied at the Russian military’s languages institute, and says he briefed Manafort during the campaign. Kilimnik has denied reports that he has ties to Russian intelligence.
The nature of Gates’ contacts with “Person A” are unclear, but Mueller’s team will have significant insight into them. The papers say that van der Zwaan, the lawyer who lied to Mueller’s investigators, kept tapes of his interactions with “Person A” and Gates in Fall 2016. Moreover, Gates is cooperating with Mueller’s probe, having pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring against the United States and lying to federal prosecutors.
Correction: This piece has been corrected to reflect that Gates believed Kilimnik was former GRU officer.