A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday disputed the assessment by Sen. Marco Rubio, acting chair of the committee, that a nearly 1,000-page report released by the panel this week found “absolutely no evidence of collusion” among President Trump, his campaign and the Russian government.
“I’m not sure Marco Rubio read the same report I did,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said in an interview on the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.” “When you have the chair of the campaign, Paul Manafort, sitting down with a Russian intelligence agent and giving him detailed internal polling data — I don’t want to get into what’s collusion, what’s cooperation, what’s conspiracy, but it was certainly a link between the Trump campaign and the Russian intelligence services.”
“We couldn’t establish ... that there was an explicit agreement where somebody sat down in a room and said, ‘OK, we’re gonna do this and you do that,’” King elaborated. “It was more of an evolving sort of course of conduct that went as the thing unfolded, but Paul Manafort was at the heart of it.”
King, who ran as an independent and caucuses with the Democrats, was referring to damning new evidence in the committee’s report about Manafort, who had headed Trump’s campaign during the spring and summer of 2016. In particular, the report cites Manafort’s relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime business associate, who the report concludes was a “Russian intelligence officer.” The committee concluded that Manafort shared internal Trump campaign polling data and strategy with Kilimnik.
“To a politician, internal polling data is a road map to the campaign, it’s the blueprint,” said King. “So when you’re talking about handing over internal polling data to a Russian agent in August of an election year — I don’t know how anybody can say that’s not some kind of important and serious and disturbing link.”
Manafort’s sharing of internal Trump campaign polling data with Kilimnik, including during a meeting at a New York cigar bar, was first revealed in the report by special counsel Robert Mueller, although Manafort’s reasons weren’t clear. The Mueller report cited testimony from a former Manafort aide, Robert Gates, suggesting it may have been designed to curry favor with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin, and to resume lucrative consulting work for Ukrainian oligarchs with ties to Russia.
The Senate committee report viewed Manafort’s associations as deeply disturbing.
“The Committee found that Manafort's presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign,” the report states. “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.”
King also cited new details in the report about Trump’s communications with his onetime political adviser Roger Stone regarding the imminent release of internal Democratic National Committee emails stolen by Russian intelligence and provided to WikiLeaks. The report notes that the Trump campaign had “brainstorming sessions” about how to prepare for the WikiLeaks releases and notes testimony from Gates that as soon as then-candidate Trump finished a call with Stone, he immediately pronounced that “more information would be coming” from WikiLeaks.
“That indicates a couple of things,” King said. “One, they knew WikiLeaks was involved in this; two, they had advance knowledge of what was coming; and three, the candidate himself knew about it. And so it’s a pretty damning set of facts, in my view.”
Trump, in sworn written testimony to Mueller, said that he did not recall speaking with Stone about WikiLeaks. King said Trump’s responses were “a little hard to swallow.”
“On numerous occasions the president has touted his incredible memory, that he just remembers anything and everything and anything. And I think in this case he had a memory lapse. When somebody says ‘I don’t recall,’ it’s hard to call that an untruthful statement, but it’s a little hard to swallow, given what appears to be a trail of these kinds of communications.”
WikiLeaks — and its releases about the Democrats — were never far from Trump’s mind, King said.
“Donald Trump always says things out loud. Later in the campaign, he kept — at every rally, he talked about WikiLeaks and how he loved WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks was releasing these things so it’s on the record,” he said.
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