The FBI has found that a business associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, including during the 2016 campaign when Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, were in touch with the associate, according to new court filings.
The documents, filed late Tuesday by prosecutors for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, also allege that Gates had said he knew the associate was a former officer with the Russian military intelligence service.
The allegations underscore Mueller’s interest in Manafort and Gates, who continued to interact with business associates in Ukraine even as they helped lead Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Manafort, 68, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, money laundering, and tax and bank fraud charges related to his lobbying work for a Russian-friendly political party in Ukraine and former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
Gates, 45, who was deputy campaign manager for Trump and had earlier worked with Manafort in Ukraine, pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy and lying to the FBI in a cooperation deal with Mueller’s probe.
It's hard to overstate how huge this is. Gates is cooperating with Mueller, and if he's confirming that both he and Manafort were knowingly working with a former Russian intelligence agent while actively running the Trump campaign, then the story goes from "There's no smoking gun connecting Trump's campaign to Russia" to "Just how much was Manafort working with the GRU?"
Obviously Trump knew this Washington Post story was coming, which would explain why he hates the paper's parent company Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos so much. Axios's Jon Swan:
What we're hearing: Trump has talked about changing Amazon’s tax treatment because he’s worried about mom-and-pop retailers being put out of business.
- A source who’s spoken to POTUS: “He’s wondered aloud if there may be any way to go after Amazon with antitrust or competition law."
- Trump’s deep-seated antipathy toward Amazon surfaces when discussing tax policy and antitrust cases. The president would love to clip CEO Jeff Bezos’ wings. But he doesn’t have a plan to make that happen.
Behind the president's thinking: Trump's wealthy friends tell him Amazon is destroying their businesses. His real estate buddies tell him — and he agrees — that Amazon is killing shopping malls and brick-and-mortar retailers.
- Trump tells people Amazon has gotten a free ride from taxpayers and cushy treatment from the U.S. Postal Service.
- “The whole post office thing, that's very much a perception he has,” another source said. “It's been explained to him in multiple meetings that his perception is inaccurate and that the post office actually makes a ton of money from Amazon."
- Axios' Ina Fried notes: The Postal Service actually added delivery on Sunday in some cities because Amazon made it worthwhile.
- Trump also pays close attention to the Amazon founder's ownership of The Washington Post, which the president views as Bezos’ political weapon.
Believe me when I say it's that last part that makes the difference and explains why Trump doesn't give a damn about what Facebook, Wal-Mart, or Google are up to.
The larger point remains however: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were in contact with Russian intelligence during the time they were running the Trump campaign. The implications of this are enormous.