Throughout the Trump administration and the Mueller investigation, Byron York has attempted to present himself as the serious and intellectual voice among the president’s enablers. As such, here he is reacting to the news that Paul Manafort has reached a plea agreement with the special prosecutor.
.@ByronYork on Manafort guilty plea: "All this kind of talk that Manafort is the big one…I think that all of that is based on an assumption, a belief that there is some big conspiracy between Trump and Russia that only Paul Manafort can reveal." #TheStory pic.twitter.com/3yoKvoqNmN
— Fox News (@FoxNews) September 14, 2018
Anyone who has been paying attention will recognize two problems with that analysis. The first is the common refrain among Trump and his enablers that none of the indictments and plea agreements reached by Mueller with the president’s campaign staff have anything to do with Russian collusion. York wants us to believe that he doesn’t know how investigations into criminal conspiracies actually work. Secondly, no one has ever said that Manafort is the only one who can reveal the conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. While he is a major player in the story that is unfolding, he is one of several people who could make the case.
So there you have the most serious attempt on the right to explain away Manafort’s cooperation. Much of the rest of the media is focusing on the Trump Tower meeting on June 9th with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya that Manafort attended. But I agree with Franklin Foer when he says that “until we know more about the meeting, it’s impossible to know with certainty whether it was as hapless as conventionally portrayed.”
There are actually two arenas where Manafort’s testimony could be critical. The first is based on concrete information that is already publicly known, but people like Byron York want you to forget. It has to do with Manafort’s relationships with Konstantin Kilimnik and Oleg Deripaska. Kilimnick worked with Manafort in Ukraine for years and eventually earned the title “Manafort’s Manafort.” Here’s what Mueller already told us about that relationship:
…in two separate fillings, [Mueller] has referred to an unnamed colleague of Manafort’s, identified only as “Person A,” with “ties to Russian intelligence.” In a brief Mueller submitted to a U.S. District Court in the course of pressing his case against Manafort, he went one step further. Citing FBI special agents, the special prosecutor described Person A’s ties to Russian intelligence as “active” through the 2016 presidential election.
What everyone close to Paul Manafort already knew, and what The New York Times and other outlets later confirmed, is that Mueller was pseudonymously describing none other than Konstantin Kilimnik. Or to put it even more bluntly than Mueller: Donald Trump’s campaign chairman had a pawn of Russian intelligence as his indispensable alter ego.
So Manafort’s fixer was a Russian agent who was “active” throughout the 2016 presidential election. Emails between the two of them during that time period have been made public and it’s clear from them that the role Kilimnik played was as a messenger between Manafort and his old business partner Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch with extremely close ties to Vladimir Putin.
Upon getting the job with the Trump campaign, Manafort reached out to Kilimnik immediately to ask how the job could help make him whole with Deripaska, who he owed a lot of money. Just before the Republican convention, Manafort also offered to brief Deripasak on the presidential race. What isn’t publicly known at this point is the outcome of those offers from the president’s campaign manager.
Trump and his enablers have so effectively sullied Christopher Steele and his dossier that almost no one is focusing on the critical element about Manafort in that document. As Martin noted last week, a report dated July 26, 2016 says this:
Speaking in confidence to a compatriot in late July 2016, Source E, an ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump, admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them and the Russian leadership. This was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries. The two sides had a mutual interest in defeating Democratic presidential candidate Hillary CLINTON, whom President PUTIN apparently both hated and feared.
Whether or not that part of the dossier will eventually be confirmed remains to be seen. But given that Manafort’s alter ego was a Russian agent, the campaign manager would be the perfect man for the job.