The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Hard evidence at last that shreds Trump’s lies about a Russia ‘hoax’

President Trump. (Anna Moneymaker/Bloomberg)

As Democrats accelerate their drive to defeat President Trump in November, they have a potent new weapon in a report by a Republican-led Senate committee that chronicles the “grave counterintelligence threat” posed by the extensive contacts between Trump’s former campaign chairman and a Russian intelligence operative.

The final volume of the report by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation arrives late in the game. Still, it offers the detailed accounting of how Russian spies worked with the Trump team that former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III should have given the country last year. It offers raw material for the wide-ranging impeachment inquiry that the House of Representatives should have conducted.

Here at last is hard evidence — certified by GOP committee leaders and published this week — that shreds Trump’s false claims of a Russia “hoax” or “witch hunt.” Let us never hear that glib dismissal of fact again. From now on, the simple answer to Trump is: “That’s not what Senate Republicans found.”

In 2019, The Post's editorial board argued the president tried to manipulate the justice system, wrongdoing that Congress must not let go. (Video: The Washington Post)

The document is 952 pages, stuffed with obscure names and details, and few will read much of it. But as someone who has spent four years examining arcane aspects of this story, I can summarize the findings that make the report so powerful.

The most important is that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman for much of 2016, had repeated secret contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, bluntly described in the report as a “Russian intelligence officer.” Manafort had worked with Kilimnik since 2004, and shared detailed, sensitive information with him before, during and after the campaign.

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We knew that Manafort had worked with Kilimnik, but the scope of their interactions, as laid out in the report, is astonishing. In page after page, the report describes how Manafort communicated secretly with Kilimnik, shared internal Trump campaign data with him, discussed plans that would advance Russia’s interests in Ukraine and took other questionable actions.

As the report describes it, Manafort was determined to obscure his relationship with Kilimnik. Pressed by Mueller about his contacts with him, Manafort “lied consistently,” the report says. He used encrypted communication devices, secret meetings and private code words to obscure his actions. This relationship, says the report, was “the single most direct tie between senior Trump Campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services.”

The Senate investigators even gathered information “suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected to the [Russian military intelligence agency’s] hack and leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election” — the assault on Democratic emails that was the centerpiece of the Kremlin’s election-meddling campaign.

Kilimnik wasn’t the only Russian intelligence conduit to Manafort and the campaign. Another was Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch whom Manafort has known since 2004. The Senate report describes Deripaska as “a proxy for the Russian state and intelligence services” who “has managed and financed Kremlin-approved and -directed active measures campaigns, including information operations and election interference efforts.”

A shocking finding was that the Kremlin sought to use this network even after the election to hide its dirty work. Read this passage and consider what it tells us about Trump and his apologists: “The Committee observed numerous Russian-government actors from late 2016 until at least January 2020 consistently spreading overlapping false narratives which sought to discredit investigations into Russian interference.”

One goal of this coverup was to “promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election,” the Senate report says. Sound familiar? It should. This lie has been voiced repeatedly by Trump and his defenders. Participants in the deception included Manafort, Kilimnik, Deripaska and others, the Senate report says — but the real purveyor in chief of the disinformation operation was Trump himself.

Russian operatives used their Trump contacts for favors large and small. Kilimnik pressed Manafort to support a pro-Russia peace plan for Ukraine in August 2016 and did so again after Trump’s election. In Montenegro, well before Russia’s October 2016 coup attempt, Manafort helped Deripaska advance Moscow’s interests there.

The report includes hundreds of pages of other damning information. One particularly vivid passage describes Trump’s attempts to ingratiate himself with Russian President Vladimir Putin when he was hosting the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in November 2013. “I am a big fan of yours,” Trump had cooed back in 2007 in a congratulatory letter.

As the pageant approached, Trump went into overdrive. In a June 26, 2013, letter, he invited the Russian dictator to attend as a “guest of honor” and added a handwritten note in his distinctive block letters: “THE WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN!” For the next three years, Trump’s family and fixers tried unsuccessfully to build his cherished “Trump Tower Moscow” with the help of Putin cronies.

Facts are stubborn things,” said John Adams, our second president. And the facts of the Trump team’s interactions with Russian intelligence are clearly documented here. As the Senate report stresses, this is a counterintelligence problem — a matter of combating Russian spies. The bipartisan report has revealed this story in extraordinary new detail: Read it and weep.

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Read more:

Read letters in response to this column: The Senate confirms what Mueller already documented

Jennifer Rubin: As it turns out, there really was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia

The Post’s View: The Senate’s findings on Russian interference are explosive. They shouldn’t be ignored.

Paul Waldman: A new bipartisan report raises the question: If this isn’t ‘collusion,’ what is?

Max Boot: A damning new article reveals how Trump enables Russian election interference

Michael Gerson: Trump sees votes for him as permission for further national betrayals