Konstantin Kilimnik, on of the most crucial and damaging figures in the Paul Manafort-Russia allegations. Does he indeed have “links to Russian intelligence”? Or is he instead a long-time, protected State Department asset? Is this information you’d like to have?
One of the news stories that recently emerged as part of the Mueller Report aftermath involves Russiagate cast member Konstantin Kilimnik, whom Special Prosecutor Mueller presented as a Russian asset and go-between for Paul Manafort and the “Russians.”
As Matt Taibbi put it in a public post at his Substack site (emphasis mine thoughout):
Kilimnik’s relationship with Manafort was among the most damaging to Donald Trump in the Mueller report. Here was Trump’s campaign manager commiserating with a man Mueller said was “assessed” to have “ties to Russian intelligence.”
In one of the most lurid sections of the Mueller report, Manafort is described writing to Kilimnik after being named Trump’s campaign manager to ask if “our friends” had seen media coverage about his new role.
“Absolutely. Every article,” said Kilimnik. To this, Manafort replied: “How do we use to get whole. Has Ovd operation seen?” referring to Deripaska.
The implication was clear: Manafort was offering to use his position within the Trump campaign to “get whole” with the scary metals baron, Deripaska. Manafort believed his role on the campaign could help “confirm” Deripaska would drop a lawsuit he had filed against Manafort.
When Manafort later sent “internal polling data” to Kilimnik with the idea that it was being shared with Ukrainian oligarchs and Deripaska, this seemed like very damaging news indeed: high-ranking Trump official gives inside info to someone with “ties” to Russian intelligence.
Mueller didn’t just describe Kilimnik as having ties to Russian intelligence. He said that while working in Moscow between 1998 and 2005 for the International Republican Institute– that’s an American think-tank connected to the Republican Party, its sister organization being the National Democratic Institute – IRI officials told the FBI he’d been fired because his “links to Russian intelligence were too strong.”
In other words, Mueller not only made a current assessment about Kilimnik, he made a show of retracing Kilimnik’s career steps in a series of bullet points, from his birth in the Dnieprpetrovsk region in 1970 to his travel to the U.S. in 1997, to his effort in 2014 to do PR work defending Russia’s move into Crimea.
And yet, according a recent story at The Hill by John Solomon, Kilimnik was instead an important State Department asset going back to 2013. Taibbi:
John Solomon of The Hill just came out with what could be a narrative-changing story. If news organizations that heavily covered Russiagate don’t at least check out this report – confirm it or refute it – few explanations other than bias will make sense.
In “Key figure that Mueller report linked to Russia was a State Department intel source,” Solomon asserts that Konstantin Kilimnik, the mysterious Ukrainian cohort of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, has been a “sensitive” source for the U.S. State department dating back to at least 2013, including “while he was still working for Manafort.”
Solomon describes Kilimnik meeting “several times a week” with the chief political officer of the U.S. Embassy in Kiev. Kilimnik “relayed messages back to Ukraine’s leaders and delivered written reports to U.S. officials via emails that stretched on for thousands of words,” according to memos Solomon reviewed.
Solomon’s story raises several problems. First, if true it undercuts Robert Mueller’s credibility by a lot. Why does Mueller say Kilimnik was “assessed…to have ties to Russian intelligence” if he was a known State Dept (or CIA) asset working the same beat from the U.S. side of the street? If Solomon is right, how could Mueller not have known? And if Mueller did know, why wasn’t that also included in his report?
Keep in mind, “assessed” means only “this is our opinion” until you see the underlying evidence, if any. “Assessed” has become a magic word during the Mueller investigation, elevated by hope to the status of proof. Yet the CIA “assessed” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction to justify the Iraq War, and more recently, Syria’s Assad was “assessed” by the White House Intelligence Report of April 11, 2017, to have launched “sarin gas attacks” against his own people in Idlib province, a claim that has been proven false many times since then.
Where Is the Coverage of This Story in the Mainstream Press?
The second problem raised by this story is its coverage — or non-coverage — in the mainstream press. John Solomon is known to have a right-wing slant to his reporting, thus many dismiss his work. Yet he claims to have plenty of evidence for this reporting. Taibbi (italics indicates embedded quote):
Solomon, who says he “reviewed” FBI and State Department memos about Kilimnik’s status as an informant. He even went so far as to name the U.S. embassy officials in Ukraine who dealt with Kilimnik:
Alan Purcell, the chief political officer at the Kiev embassy from 2014 to 2017, told FBI agents that State officials, including senior embassy officials Alexander Kasanof and Eric Schultz, deemed Kilimnik to be such a valuable asset that they kept his name out of cables for fear he would be compromised by leaks to WikiLeaks.
“Purcell described what he considered an unusual level of discretion that was taken with handling Kilimnik,” states one FBI interview report that I reviewed. “Normally the head of the political section would not handle sources, but Kasanof informed Purcell that KILIMNIK was a sensitive source.”
This relationship was described in “hundreds of pages of government documents” that Solomon reports Mueller “possessed since 2018.” The FBI, he added, knew all about Kilimnik’s status as a State Department informant before the conclusion of Mueller’s investigation.
Of course, this is just another “assessment,” this time by Solomon. Yet now there is the proffer of evidence, of proof. What should an unbiased media do in response? Look into these allegations, if only to debunk them, or stay silent?
Is Solomon Right or Wrong? Answer: No One Wants to Know.
According to Taibbi, as of the day he published his piece just two outlets have picked up or looked into Solomon’s story — the Washington Examiner and Fox News. In other words, the story has been confined by mainstream silence to the right-wing ghetto, where it can be dismissed out of hand as “That’s from Fox News, is it? Well…”
Yet Taibbi says Solomon has been right in the past on Russiagate; I’ll leave you to read his piece in full for those details. Then he adds, “It would be one thing if other outlets were rebutting his claims about Kilimnik, as people have with some of this other stories. But this report has attracted zero response from non-conservative media, despite the fact that Kilimnik has long been one of the most talked-about figures in the whole Russiagate drama.”
Should Right Wing Outlets Be Read and “Assessed” As Well?
This brings us to the crux of the current question. Should right-wing media sources be read and their claims evaluated?
If the Mueller Report is gospel and right-wing sources always incorrect, we’re in a black-and-white world where “our” side can do no wrong (or at worst, can only err), while their side can do no right, can only lie, and thus can be dismissed without a second’s consideration.
But what if Mueller’s story — like the Iraq-WMD story, like the Syria “sarin gas” stories, like so many other stories involving elements, active or “retired,” of our national security apparatus — is only partly right, while the rest of what they say is made up or twisted out of shape to fit a political objective, to serve a political outcome?
How then should we, members of the “fact-based” community, respond? After all, Kilimnik’s alleged role in the Mueller investigation was rightly described by the Manafort judge as the “undisputed core of [Mueller’s] investigation.” Should right-wing claims that Kilimnik’s role was fabricated or distorted be examined as well, or rejected out of hand in the same way right-wing readers reject liberal and left-wing sources?
Does Right-Wing Media Always Lie?
Which leads to our final question, Do right-wing sources always lie? On this the writer Avedon Carol speaks eloquently. Via email she notes this:
Part of the problem is that right-wing sources aren’t always lying, they just do it when it’s convenient. Sometimes they twist the truth but it starts off being truth, then they veer off in such a way that it has the dual purpose of convincing their tribe of the fake part and discrediting the true part to our tribe.
Sometimes both sides even tell the same true lies. I can’t help the feeling that Trump was being at least as honest as Obama had been when Trump said single-payer would have been the best way to do health care and Obama said they had great health care in Scotland. And though it’s possible Obama was being perfectly honest, it was also clear early on that Obama had no intention of actually implementing anything like single-payer.
Trump, though, may have actually naively thought, “Sure, if everyone else can do it, so can we, so we’ll just do that” — imagining that the Republicans would actually write a sensible health care policy to replace Obamacare. Yes, Trump is a liar, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have loved to be loved the way Nye Bevan and Tommy Douglas [founders of the UK and Canadian national health services respectively] are. It would be no skin off of his nose if we all had good health care.
Sam Seder always plays that clip of Limbaugh saying, “I call Obama ‘The Magic Negro’,” and the more I hear it, the more I think he had a point. Where Democrats are concerned, Obama is as Teflon as Reagan ever was, and the response to any criticism of Obama is always the same goddamn racist bullshit.
Another example: Darryl Issa made up the fake IRS scandal to say something true: Obama really was using government to go after his enemies. The only thing is, he wasn’t using the IRS, and his enemies weren’t Republicans.
The thing about the right-wing lie machine is that they never let the fact that something is true stop them. When Obama was busy talking about “entitlement reform,” Democrats seemed not to notice it — but by the gods, right-wing media media made sure their audience knew about it. That’s what those “Keep your hands off my Social Security” placards were about.
One of the weirdest things on TV right now is Tucker Carlson attacking real problems and then veering away from the obvious conclusion just in time — and much of it is coherent, intelligent, and true. He does it with what looks for all the world like a real progressive activist’s zeal — and then it’s like someone flips a switch and to put him back into Republican operative mode again.
If right-wing sources sometimes tell the truth to make their points, should that tar even the truth in leftish eyes?
Carol concludes: “There’s a right-wing media that tells its listeners that Democrats are corrupt and lying, which they are. There is a leftish media that tells its viewers that Republicans are corrupt and lying, which they are. The only people who admit that both of these things are true are ‘the crazy far-left'” — the real members, in other words, of the fact-based community.
I do recommend reading the Taibbi piece in full. There’s much more in it that I touched on here. And if you like it, consider subscribing to the rest of his site to read the other, non-public chapters of his latest work-in-progress, temporarily titled “Untitledgate.” It’s among his best work.
About author Thomas Neuburger is an essayist, poet and story writer. He has published political analysis under the pen name Gaius Publius since 2010.