Donald Trump's campaign chairman met in August -- as controversy swirled over possible Russian interference in the election -- with a business associate who may have ties to Russian intelligence.
Paul Manafort met twice during the presidential campaign with Konstantin Kilimnik, who helped run the Ukraine office for his political consulting operation for 10 years -- including a previously undisclosed dinner shortly before his own Russian ties forced him out of the Trump campaign, reported the Washington Post.
Kilimnik learned fluent English and Swedish at a Soviet military school, and his later work as a translator earned him a reputation as an operative for Russia's GRU intelligence service -- although he denies those connections and U.S. officials have not made that allegation.
He began working for Manafort, whose own ties to the Kremlin are under investigation by Congress and the FBI, in 2005, and he stayed with the consulting group through its work for pro-Russian hardliner Viktor Yanukovych, who became president of Ukraine and later fled to Russia.
Kilimnik admits to meeting twice with Manafort in the U.S. during the presidential campaign.
The first meeting came in early May 2016, about two weeks before Manafort was promoted to campaign chairman, and the second was in August -- about two weeks before he resigned under pressure related to his political work in Ukraine.
The business associates met at the Grand Havana Room in New York City, where they talked about which clients owed them money, the overall situation in Ukraine and the U.S. presidential campaign.
Manafort admits to discussing with Kilimnik the hacks of the Democratic National Committee, but simply as part of a conversation about current events at that time.
"It would be neither surprising nor suspicious that two political consultants would chat about the political news of the day, including the DNC hack, which was in the news," Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, told the Post. "We’re confident that serious officials will come to the conclusion that Paul’s campaign conduct and interaction with Konstantin during that time was perfectly permissible and not in furtherance of some conspiracy."
Kilimnik's late-summer visit to the U.S. drew the attention of U.S. authorities, and he later told associates that he played a role in softening the Republican platform toward Russian interests in Ukraine.
Ukrainian authorities formally investigated Kilmnik's alleged ties to Russian intelligence last year, and he was cleared, although some lawmakers there questioned whether the probe deliberately avoided findings that could have affected the U.S. presidential race.
Kilimnik's name appeared this spring on a subpoena issued in Virginia by a federal grand jury in connection with Manafort's work in Ukraine and his business connections.