Senate Intelligence Committee report found Trump's former campaign managers' proximity to his election bid posed “a grave counterintelligence threat".
“Russia and other countries took advantage of the Transition Team’s inexperience, transparent opposition to Obama Administration policies, and Trump’s desire to deepen ties with Russia, to pursue unofficial channels through which Russia could conduct diplomacy,” according to the GOP-led committee, noting that this made the “transition open to influence and manipulation.”
Though investigations by the House and Mueller concluded there were some ties between Trump’s campaign members and Russian figures, the Senate investigation highlighted the ties were much deeper than earlier known. One such figure was Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer Donald Trump Jr., former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner met at Trump Tower in Jun. 2016 after being promised dirt on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Instead, the report stated Veselnitskaya steered the discussion toward Russian sanctions.
The report found that complex relationships were established between campaign associates with Russian ties and individuals close to Trump. For example, American businessman Bob Foresman “conveyed brief messages” between the campaign and Kremlin-linked individuals, including a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Manafort came under heavy criticism in the report for his “willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services” that “represented a grave counterintelligence threat.” Redacted in parts, the report detailed extensive contacts between Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national who worked closely with Manafort for years. The report labeled Kilimnik a “Russian intelligence officer,” and said Manafort sought on numerous occasions to “secretly share internal Campaign information with Kilimnik.” It also said the committee obtained “some information” linking Kilimnik to Russian intelligence services’ efforts to hack and leak information to damage Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.
The Republican senators on the committee in an ‘additional views’ section claimed there is still “no evidence that then-candidate Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government in its efforts to meddle in the election.” But overall, the nearly 1,000-page report did not reflect well on Trump or his team.
President Trump called the report “a hoax,” but a White House spokesman said it reaffirmed the fact that “there was absolutely no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.” Despite strong evidence, “by undermining investigators, Trump’s aides rendered Mueller’s report a hash lacking a firm conclusion. They helped detonate the charge of collusion, letting it fizzle well ahead of the 2020 election,” according to a Franklin Foer, a staff writer at the Atlantic.
Previously, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had appointed Mueller as special counsel to lead the investigation into Russian interference, and Mueller’s report was released on April 18, 2019. Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, charging them with conspiracy to defraud the United States. During the probe, many U.S. officials pleaded guilty to lying to the Mueller team. Mueller delivered a public statement, declaring that charging the president with a criminal offense was not a constitutional option.