Tuesday’s report, the product of a three-year bipartisan probe by the committee, focuses on counterintelligence aspects of the U.S. government’s Russia investigation, including allegations that Trump campaign officials coordinated with Russian operatives. It outlines in exhaustive detail the extent of Trump campaign officials’ contacts with Russians, though it stops short of alleging a direct coordination effort.
In particular, the committee’s investigation found that Manafort “represented a grave counterintelligence threat” due to his relationship with Kilimnik and other Russians connected to the country’s intelligence services — a bombshell conclusion that underscores how Russia developed a pipeline directly to the upper echelons of a U.S. presidential campaign.
The committee, which conducted the only bipartisan investigation on Capitol Hill centering on Russia’s 2016 meddling, also raised the possibility that Manafort was personally connected to the “hack-and-leak operations” that targeted Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The committee states that “some evidence suggests Kilimnik may be connected” to the effort, which was helmed by Russia’s GRU, its main military-intelligence directorate.
The committee cautioned that Manafort’s personal involvement with the operation is “largely unknown” because investigators were unable to learn the full extent of many of the conversations between Manafort and Kilimnik, which included several in-person meetings, about which “no objective record of their content exists.”
“Kilimnik was in sustained contact with Manafort before, during, and after the GRU cyber and influence operations, but the committee did not obtain reliable, direct evidence that Kilimnik and Manafort discussed the GRU hack-and-leak operation,” the report states.
Kilimnik’s role as a Russian intelligence officer is one of several findings in the 966-page report showing that Trump campaign contacts with Russian intelligence-connected operatives was deeper and more extensive than previously known. The report also showed that at least two participants in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Manafort, senior adviser Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. were more deeply tied to Russian intelligence than other reports have indicated.
“The committee assesses that at least two participants in the June 9, 2016 meeting, [Natalia] Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, have significant connections to the Russian government, including the Russian intelligence services,” the panel concluded. “The connections the Committee uncovered, particularly regarding Veselnitskaya, were far more extensive and concerning than what had been publicly known.”
Kilimnik’s name appears hundreds of times throughout the document, and he is described as not only aiding the Russian interference effort but working with Manafort and allies in Ukraine to help cover up evidence of Russia’s involvement — and spread false allegations that it was Ukrainians who interfered instead.
Manafort was convicted of a raft of financial crimes in August 2018 and pleaded guilty to additional crimes in August 2019, briefly pledging to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team before prosecutors accused him of telling additional lies and breaking off the deal. Manafort was sentenced to 7 and ½ years in prison but was released to home confinement amid the coronavirus pandemic after serving 23 months.
Although the report stops short of suggesting that Trump or his campaign “colluded” with Russia, it echoes Mueller’s findings that the campaign sought and welcomed Russian interference in the 2016 election, amplifying the results of its hacking operation despite the knowledge of its likely foreign provenance and seeking advanced knowledge of the hacked materials.
Like Mueller’s two-year investigation, the Senate panel said the evidence was insufficient to prove that Trump or any advisers coordinated or conspired with the massive Russian election interference effort. But the panel also found that multiple witnesses were untruthful and hid or destroyed evidence that might have shed more light on the allegations.
The report also described a slew of lingering mysteries and unanswered questions In particular, the panel raised sharp concerns about potentially “obstructive” conduct by witnesses who claimed to be part of “an undocumented and unproven ‘joint defense agreement.’”
In particular, the panel sought details about whether Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, floated the possibility of a “pre-pardon” or pardon for Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, in exchange for false testimony about Trump’s effort to build a tower in Moscow. The panel found that at least two witnesses, Donald Trump Jr. and Felix Sater, “could have known that Cohen’s statement falsely represented material facts about negotiations over a deal for a Trump Tower Moscow.”
“Normally, these communications would not be protected by the attorney-client privilege because they were shared with third parties, and hence no longer confidential,” the committee concluded. “Nonetheless, the Committee was informed that the materials it requested could not be provided because they were subject to a joint defense agreement (JDA).”
After further probing, the committee determined that the defense agreement appeared to cover Trump, Trump Jr., Kushner, Ivanka Trump, the Trump campaign and organization, Hope Hicks, Michael Flynn and others.
“Due to time and resource considerations, the Committee opted not to further pursue its inquiry into potentially obstructive conduct under this alleged JDA umbrella,” the panel wrote. “Doing so would have likely required initiating litigation over subpoena compliance, a process that may not have resolved in time to be of investigative value.”
The committee noted that several witnesses, including Flynn, Manafort, George Papadopoulos and Rick Gates asserted their Fifth Amendment rights to avoid self-incrimination during the probe.
The report also outlined several attempts by the White House Counsel to issue “novel and unprecedented potential executive privilege claims” on behalf of Trump’s presidential transition team. The committee stated that the claims “were made inconsistently” and had “no basis in law.”
The committee’s leaders had differing views on that subject. Acting Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the report presents “absolutely no evidence that then-candidate Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government to meddle in the 2016 election.”
Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), meanwhile, highlighted “a breathtaking level of contacts between Trump officials and Russian government operatives that is a very real counterintelligence threat to our elections.”
Nagorno-Karabakh: The boy who swapped his piano for a gun
The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is over, but some families are still waiting for news of their missing relatives.
Bodies are still being counted and identified, and there is no clear information on what has happened to the missing.
Twenty-two-year-old Soghomon was fighting on the Armenian frontline against Azerbaijan. The last time his family heard from him was 1 October.
He was a soldier, but also an artist and a talented piano player.
His father and sister say they can’t give up hope that he will return.
Video by: Sofia Bettiza, Gabriel Chaim and Aren Melikyan
Afghan car bomb kills at least 40 soldiers
According to a statement from the Afghan Ministry of Defense, the attacker was confronted by security forces as he tried to enter the base. No group has claimed responsibility yet.
The blast targeted a compound of the public protection force, a wing of the Afghan security forces, local officials told Reuters. It damaged civilian residences around the compound, and there could be more casualties from there, they said.
Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian confirmed that there had been a car bomb blast but did not provide further information on the target or possible casualties.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, when contacted by Reuters, did not confirm or deny responsibility.
Afghanistan has seen a spate of car bombings over the last few months, despite peace talks being under way between negotiation teams of the insurgent Taliban and the government in the Qatari capital of Doha.
Another bombing on Sunday, in the eastern province of Zabul, targeting a top provincial official, killed at least one person and injured 23, said Gul Islam Syaal, the spokesman for the province’s governor.
Haji Ata Jan Haqbayan, head of the provincial council of Zabul, suffered minor injuries in the attack on his convoy.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack on Haqbayan, an outspoken critic of the Taliban.
Incoming GOP congresswoman to take aim at AOC with conservative ‘squad’
Malliotakis, who frequently attacked Ocasio-Cortez during her campaign against Democratic Rep. Max Rose, took aim again at her New York counterpart when asked about the future of the Republican Party.
“I think one of the reasons why we were so motivated to run is seeing the Democratic women being elected in 2018 that don’t necessarily reflect our values, particularly those who are self-described socialists,” Malliotakis said. “I think there’s just a stark contrast between what we’re offering and what people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are offering. And that’s something that needs to be debated in Washington.”
House Republicans more than doubled the number of women in their conference in November, bringing the number to at least 28 from 13. Democrats, who added a record number of women to their ranks during the 2018 election, have at least 89.
A number of House races still remain uncalled, including New York Republican Claudia Tenney’s challenge against Rep. Anthony Brindisi; Tenney’s lead has narrowed significantly to just 13 votes as of Friday.
Malliotakis, who will be the only Republican to represent New York City in Congress, credited House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Liz Cheney for their efforts in recruiting “qualified women who have something to share with the American people” for the gains.
“What we stand for are freedom, liberty. We love this nation. We want to see it prevail. We want to see it remain the land of opportunity, what has, in essence, attracted millions of immigrants from around the world, to pursue that American dream,” Malliontakis said. “Somebody like me, daughter of a Cuban refuge, I want to be there to be a part of the discussion, debate and provide a counterview.”
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