Never forget that Paul Manafort shared 2016 polling data with Oleg Deripaska’s associate Konstantin Kilimnik. (“Stop the steal” was a psyop.)
By Jennifer Cohn
March 5, 2021
On March 28, 2016, soon after Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination, the Trump campaign announced that it had hired a political operative named Paul Manafort to assist with the campaign.
Before joining the Trump campaign, Manafort had for years worked for a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska, one of Putin’s closest allies.
In 2004, Lyovochkin had been caught on tape conspiring to hack Ukraine’s presidential election for Yanukovych. When the plot was exposed, there was an election re-do that Yanukovych lost.
Yanukovych eventually won Ukraine’s presidential election in 2010 after an “extreme makeover” provided by Manafort.
By the time Manafort joined the Trump campaign, however, the Yanukovych regime had stolen $40 billion, Yanukovych had been ousted and was living in Russia in exile, and Russia had illegally annexed a portion of Ukraine called Crimea and attacked Ukraine’s 2014 election.
The U.S. and EU had, in turn, implemented sweeping sanctions on Russia in response to its aggression toward Ukraine.
Moreover, Manafort’s relationship with Deripaska had apparently soured. In 2015, Deripaska had sued Manafort for $20 million over an allegedly bungled business investment.
On April 11, 2016, two weeks after joining the Trump campaign, Manafort emailed a Deripaska associate named Konstantin Kilimnik, who had worked for Manafort in Ukraine.
“I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?” Manafort wrote.
“Absolutely,” Kilimnik responded a few hours later from Kiev. “Every article.”
“How do we use to get whole,” Manafort asks. “Has OVD [Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska] operation seen?”
Kilimnik reportedly told Manafort in a later email that he had been “sending everything to Victor, who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD.” Victor was a senior aide to Deripaska, according to The Atlantic.
Manafort and Kilimnik had a face-to-face meeting in May 2016, around the time that Trump elevated Manafort to the position of campaign manager.
In July, the Republican platform was re-written to eliminate references to arming Ukraine in its fight with Russia.
Kilimnik later suggested to political operatives in Ukraine “that he had played a role in the pro-Russia re-write.
On August 2, 2016, Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates, met Kilimnick at a cigar bar in New Jersey. (Special prosecutors, who were later appointed by Congress to investigate possible “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia, said that this meeting went to the “heart” of their investigation.)
During the August 2 meeting, as reported by Empty Wheel, Manafort gave 75 pages of confidential polling data to Kilimnik. As further reported by Empty Wheel, “Gates testified that Manafort walked Kilimnik through the data at that clandestine August 2 meeting.”
Manafort briefed Kilimnik on “key battleground states in the 2016 presidential election, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota…”
The polling data had been assembled by Cambridge Analytica, which was in charge of the Trump campaign’s digital operations. This type of data would be useful for targeted campaign messaging, which was Cambridge Analytica’s specialty.
It would also be useful for hackers seeking to achieve a specific election outcome by altering vote tallies. As explained by election-security expert Professor Alex J. Haderman in November 2016, “ [W]hen it was clear from polling data which states would have close electoral margins, … attackers might spread malware…to shift a few percent of the vote to favor their desired candidate.”
Manafort and Gates left the August 2 meeting using separate exits.
Manafort expected Kilimnik to share the Trump campaign’s polling data with Deripaska, Lyovochkin and Akhmetov. These were the same oligarchs who had bankrolled Manafort’s pro-Russia work for Yanukovych in Ukraine. As I mentioned, Lyovochkin had also been involved in the conspiracy to hack Ukraine’s 2004 election for Yanukovych.
Hours after Manafort gave the data to Kilimnik, a private jet linked to Deripaska was spotted in Newark, New Jersey. This aroused suspicion because the plane landed near the cigar bar where Manafort had met with Kilimnik hours earlier.
The same month, Putin’s right-hand man, Sergei Prikhodko, joined Deripaska on his yacht.
A female escort named Nastya Ribka accompanied Deripaska on the trip and took pictures and video, which she posted to social media.
In 2018, Alexey Navalny, a prominent anti-corruption activist in Russia, publicized Rybka’s videos and photos with a video of his own. Navalny said he had been skeptical that Deripaska was Manafort’s backchannel to Putin, but that “Prikhodko is the man ‘who makes these decisions,” and “there he is [in Rybka’s photos], cruising on a yacht, & discussing politics with [Deripaska]’”
Soon after Navalny’s video, Rybka was arrested in Thailand for prostitution.
She claimed to have tapes and photographs of discussions and meetings regarding Russian interference in the U.S. election. She said she would hand them over if Americans would help her avoid deportation to Russia. But U.S. authorities were publicly dismissive of her claims.
Rybka has said that, in exchange for her freedom, she apologized to Deripaska and Prikhodo and agreed to shut up about the U.S. election.
On August 15, 2016, the New York Times reported that, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau, “[h]andwritten ledgers show[ed] $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012.”
The ledger made Manafort too hot to handle. A few days later, he resigned from the campaign.
But he may have maintained contact with the campaign through his partner, Rick Gates.
As for the polling data that Manafort gave Kilimnik, Mueller never learned what happened to it.
According to a court filing in 2019, Manafort initially lied to Mueller’s team about the polling data and then claimed to have simply forgotten about it. Without a cooperating witness, Mueller was unable to solve the mystery.
But it appears the Intelligence Community hasn’t given up. It posted this FBI notice on February 25, 2021.