Trump Considers Adding Paul Manafort—a “Grave Counterintelligence Threat”—to His Campaign

Paul Manafort, center, arrives in court in New York in July 2019.Seth Wenig/AP

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.From the Nothing Matters News Desk comes this report: Donald Trump is considering bringing back Paul Manafort as a top campaign adviser.
In any time other than the Trump era, this might be shocking. Manafort is a disgraced political operator and lobbyist who was pushed out as Trump’s campaign manager in 2016 after allegations emerged that he had received millions of dollars in secret payments from a Russia-aligned leader of Ukraine. He was subsequently found guilty of assorted crimes, including bank fraud, tax evasion, and obstruction of justice and sentenced to more than seven years in prison—but pardoned by Trump in the final weeks of his presidency. And the guy Trump may put back on payroll is more than a sleazy wheeler-dealer; he was—and may well still be—a national security threat. 
In August 2020, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a bipartisan 966-page report investigating the Russian attack on the 2016 election. Manafort had a starring role in this document, which labeled him a “grave counterintelligence threat.” This exhaustive report depicted Manafort as a key point of contact between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence, and it undermined Trump and his crew’s false claim that the Trump-Russia scandal was nothing but a hoax.  In fact, the committee suggested that there was a collusion of sorts between the Trump camp and Moscow, with Manafort as the go-between. 
Across hundreds of pages, the report presented a sweeping account of Manafort’s many years of misdeeds. It noted that in the 2000s he started working for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, as well as Ukrainian oligarchs connected to Russia. His jobs included running a “multi-million dollar political influence campaign directed at numerous countries of interest to Deripaska and the Russian government.” As part of this work, Manafort forged a close connection to Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the report identifies as a “Russian intelligence officer.” The troubling relationship between the two men, the committee stated, “endured to the 2016 U.S. elections and beyond.”
The report confirmed that while Manafort served as a Trump campaign adviser he secretly shared internal campaign information with Kilimnik. The panel also disclosed that it had obtained “information suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected” to the Russian operation that hacked Democratic targets and leaked the pilfered material to help Trump. This raised the possibility the Trump campaign, via Manafort, was tied to the Moscow operation that sought to sabotage the American election for Trump’s benefit. 
Moreover, the committee concluded that Manafort schemed with Kilimnik to push out “narratives that sought to undermine evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S.” So not only was Manafort canoodling with a Russian spy during the campaign; he also conspired with him to cover up Vladimir Putin’s clandestine operation to swing the election to Trump. 
The intelligence committee did not mince words. Manafort, it declared, was a danger to national security:

Manafort’s presence on the [Trump] Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on the Trump Campaign. Taken as a whole, Manafort’s high-level access and willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services, particularly Kilimnik and associates of Oleg Deripaska, represented a grave counterintelligence threat.
It added;

The Committee assesses that Kilimnik likely served as a channel to Manafort for Russian intelligence services, and that those services likely sought to exploit Manafort’s access to gain insight into the Campaign.

This was a serious indictment of Manafort—and should be a red flag for anyone who would hire him. But, apparently, not for Trump..
The entire Manafort story within the report was full of intrigue and explosive revelations. According to the committee, Manafort worked with Kilimnik to advance a so-called peace plan for eastern Ukraine—Putin had seized Crimea in 2014—that would help Moscow. It pointed out that Manafort and Kilimnik had deployed various secret forms of communication to hide the content of their interactions. It detailed a ton of suspicious business deals that Manafort had with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, and it covered Manafort’s involvement in a pro-Russia disinformation campaign to blame the computer hacks of Democrats in 2016 on Ukraine not Russia. It also chronicled the infamous private meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 during which Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. huddled with a Russian emissary after being informed she was going to share with them dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of a secret Kremlin effort to help the Trump campaign. This meeting signaled the Russians that the Trump crew did not mind Moscow meddling in the election. 
Most alarming, the committee stated that it had uncovered “two pieces of information…[that] raise the possibility of Manafort’s potential connection to the hack-and-leak operations.” Much of that portion of the report is redacted. And according to the the committee, the FBI in the middle of the 2016 campaign opened a counterintelligence investigation of Manafort. 
So Trump’s top campaign aide in 2016 was in a bed with a Russian spy and possibly tied to Putin’s covert assault on the US election. He was also found guilty on multiple charges of financial crimes related to his business dealings with Moscow-friendly oligarchs and politicians. And now Trump is weighing restoring him to a position of influence and power within his campaign. Talk about a swamp. 
During the Russian attack in 2016, both Trump and Manafort aided and abetted Putin’s clandestine war on American democracy by denying it was happening. The Senate Intelligence Committee report suggested that Manafort did even worse by maintaining a relationship with a Russian operative and posing a threat to national security. Yet Trump could soon be welcoming this discredited political player—and security risk—back into the fold. It ought to be a scandal. But it’s just another day in Trump World.