Clandestine Manafort meeting is 'most significant development' in Mueller's probe 'in a long time': ex-intelligence official
Paul Manafort (mug shot)

A clandestine meeting former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort held with a Russian in a New York cigar room that is at "the heart of" the Russia investigation may be the most important thing to happen to the probe in months.

Last week, partially-declassified court transcripts revealed that special counsel Robert Mueller's team has identified a meeting that goes "very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating," prosecutor Andrew Weissman told a judge.

As the Washington Post noted on Tuesday, court documents revealed that on August 2, 2016, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met at the Grand Havana Room, a ritzy cigar club blocks away from Trump Tower with his longtime deputy Rick Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian political operative who was "a longtime employee of their international consulting business who had flown to the United States for the gathering."

A former senior U.S. intelligence official told the Post that this meeting is "the most interesting and potentially significant development we have seen in a long time.”

During the meeting, the trio discussed a potential "resolution to the conflict over Ukraine" — an issue of great importance to both the Russian government and to Manafort's former boss, the ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

In the hearing, the judge seemed to allude to another facet, the report noted: "a handoff by Manafort of internal polling data from Trump’s presidential campaign to his Russian associate."

The former campaign manager "goes way outside the normal bounds of behavior" in the meeting, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA official and current Harvard professor, told the Post.

Mowatt-Larssen added that Gates and Manafort's Grand Havana Room meeting with Kilimnik, long seen as peculiar since the Post first reported it in 2017, raised red flags.

"That meeting — and what happened at that meeting — is of significance to the special counsel,” Weissmann said during the hearing.

Emails reviewed by the Post showed that "Manafort viewed Kilimnik — his liaison to high-level Ukrainian politicians and Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska — as key to leveraging his unpaid role as Trump’s campaign chairman."