Konstantin Kilimnik, a dual citizen of Russia and Ukraine who was a longtime business associate of Paul Manafort’s, said he is perplexed that he became the focus of special counsel scrutiny and eventually faced criminal charges as a result of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In an email exchange Friday with The Washington Post, Kilimnik said the 448-page report by Robert S. Mueller III paints a false picture of his role, including the assessment by the FBI that he has ties to Russian intelligence.
“I have no ties to Russian or, for that matter, any intelligence operation,” he wrote in an email. “This is one of the biggest mistakes in the public perception and in the report. It is simply not based on any facts and is a made-up narrative.”
More broadly, Kilimnik said, “I absolutely have zero to do with the Russia interference in the U.S. elections investigated by Mr. Mueller.”
A redacted version of Mueller’s report released Thursday by the Justice Department includes extensive references to Kilimnik, who was based in Kiev and worked for Manafort for more than a decade. The special counsel investigation found evidence supporting the FBI’s assessment of his ties to Russian intelligence, Mueller said.
The report focused on his Kilimnik’s connections to Russian and Ukrainian business tycoons and his relationship with Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign chairman until August 2016, when he resigned.
The two men spoke extensively during the presidential race. Manafort briefed Kilimnik on the campaign during an in-person meeting in spring 2016 in New York, according to prosecutors. That August, during a meeting at a New York City cigar bar, Kilimnik gave Manafort a proposal from former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych that would have guaranteed Russian control over a new autonomous region in eastern Ukraine, according to Mueller. They also discussed Manafort’s strategy for winning Democratic votes in Midwestern states.
Before and after the August meeting, the report said, Manafort shared internal polling data with Kilimnik through Manafort deputy Rick Gates. Gates told prosecutors he sent Kilimnik the polling data via WhatsApp and then deleted the messages, according to Manafort’s instructions, Mueller said.
Gates told Mueller’s office that he believed Kilimnik was a spy, a description Manafort disputed.
Manafort expected Kilimnik to share the information with others in Ukraine and with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, a onetime Manafort business partner, the report said.
But Kilimnik said he did not pass along the data, which he described as “pretty much open info, not different in any way from what was discussed by the media or what one could find on RealClearPolitics or other websites followed by people interested in politics.”
“I did not do anything with the polling numbers,” he added. “We were discussing out of pure interest. The whole world was watching the U.S. Presidential campaign, and if I had no interest in what was going on it would have been strange at the minimum.”
According to Mueller’s report, investigators were not able to determine what Kilimnik did with the data, noting that it was among the topics about which Manafort lied to prosecutors. But the report said that multiple emails Kilimnik sent to U.S. associates and media contacts in late summer 2016 referred to “internal polling” and described the state of the Trump campaign.
Kilimnik said he never had a chance to explain his interactions with Manafort because Mueller’s investigators did not contact him.
“I would have told this to Mueller’s people had they reached out to me,” he said.
A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment. According to court filings, Kilimnik now lives in Moscow.
Kilimnik is facing charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy in federal court in Washington, where he and Manafort were indicted in June 2018 for allegedly trying to coach witnesses Mueller sought to interview as part of an investigation into Manafort’s Ukrainian lobbying. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Washington declined to comment.
“I am still confused as to why I was pulled into this mess, and then declared a criminal for reaching out to a couple of folks asking them to get in touch with Paul, not having a slightest idea about their ‘witness status,’ ” Kilimnik wrote to The Post.
Kilimnik said he had “zero to do” with Manafort’s lobbying and tax problems.
Mueller’s report said that Manafort acknowledged that the Ukrainian peace plan Kilimnik pitched to him at their cigar club meeting would have been a “backdoor” way for Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine. The special counsel said the two men discussed such a plan on at least four other occasions.
Kilimnik rejected the “backdoor” description and said the report misread his role in discussions about a peace plan.
“The reality is that there was no written plan of any kind,” he said in his email to The Post. “I knew that Paul cared deeply about Ukraine and understood this country like no one else. I briefed him on Ukrainian developments and on various discussions I had with many Ukrainian politicians, whose only goal was to bring peace to their country. Russia or any Russian interest was never part of these discussions.”
The plan was not nefarious, Kilimnik wrote; rather, “Ukraine and the whole world would benefit from ending this conflict.”
He disputed other details in the report, including a suggestion that he met with Manafort in Madrid.
“I have never ever been to Madrid in my life,” he wrote.
Kilimnik said inaccuracies in the report were the result of an “overwhelming desire to see a big bad Russian wolf” playing a role in U.S. affairs, adding: “It will probably be a long time before the truth comes out and the public comes to terms with it.”
Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.