RUSSIA IF YOU'RE LISTENING: We Know What Paul Manafort's Kremlin Spy Boy Did In 2016
Oh hi! Big news in this post! Lots of big news! Read all of this post!
President Joe Biden's Treasury Department announced Thursday a whole raft of sanctions aimed at punishing the Russian Federation for attacking our elections in both 2016 and 2020 and our allies' elections; for all its hacking, including the massive SolarWinds hack that hit tons of government agencies and Fortune 500 companies; and for targeting journalists and dissidents, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny. And so on and so forth!
The Treasury Department sanctioned six Russian tech companies that "support Russian intelligence services." They directly blamed the SolarWinds hack on the SVR Russian intelligence agency, and named the FSB intelligence agency as responsible for the poisoning of Navalny. They're kicking 10 Russian "diplomats" out of Washington. And in direct response to Russia's 2020 election attacks, they are sanctioning "a total of 32 entities and individuals involved in the influence campaign as well as other acts of disinformation."
The Washington Post explains more:
The package includes sanctions on all debt Russia issues after June 14, barring U.S. financial institutions from buying government bonds directly from the Russian Central Bank, Russian National Wealth Fund and the Ministry of Finance. The action, experts said, will complicate Moscow's ability to raise money in the international capital markets. [...]
The new sovereign debt sanctions, affecting ruble and non-ruble bonds, are noteworthy, analysts said. "Russia will know it is shut out for the future from the international debt market," said Anders Aslund, an Atlantic Council senior fellow.
In response, Kremlin spokes-mouth Dmitry Peskov said blah blah blah who cares what he said.
Couple big things in here of note. We'll get to the big Paul Manafort thing in a second, but first we need to discuss ...
No Bounties! No Bounties! YOU Are The Bounties! (Maybe.)
Notably, these sanctions do not target Russia for alleged bounties it put on American troops' heads in Afghanistan. Biden administration officials are now saying they only have "low to moderate" confidence in those reports, many of which came from detainees. This doesn't mean that they're definitely not true, but that the US intel community is now saying its level of confidence doesn't rise to the level that the administration feels comfortable sanctioning Russia for it.
The issue hasn't gone away, according to the administration:
"[W]e do believe that this information puts the burden on the Russian government to explain its action and takes steps to address this disturbing pattern of behavior," [a] senior administration official said. "We expressed those concerns directly to the government of Russia."
"We have noted our conclusion of the review that we conducted on the bounties issue and we have conveyed through diplomatic, intelligence, and military channels strong, direct messages on this issue, but we are not specifically tying the actions we are taking today to that matter," a senior administration official told reporters in reference to the bounty claims.
Again, this does not mean it didn't happen. It just doesn't rise to the level of certainty they need to tie it to sanctions.
Jason Campbell, who worked on Afghanistan in Obama's Pentagon, told the Daily Beast he's not surprised the Biden administration's official review of the bounties issue came back inconclusive, noting how difficult it is to get good intel in situations like this:
"I am unsurprised that the review led to a murky determination of low to moderate confidence. While it is clear that Russia and other adversaries have been providing assistance to their proxies in Afghanistan, identifying type and amount of such assistance with great specificity has been the persistent challenge."
Of course, that isn't stopping Intercept types like Ryan Grim from taking victory laps like TOLD YOU SO, TOLD YOU SO, NEENER NEENER!
But the original sourcing -- anonymous Afghan government officials with an incentive to torpedo a peace deal by scr… https://t.co/DZ7ICerkum— Ryan Grim (@Ryan Grim) 1618502991.0
You know, maybe people would have been more circumspect from the outset if the previous president wasn't so thoroughly up Vladimir Putin's ass and so thoroughly disdainful of American troops that it would be highly believable Trump was letting Russia get away with putting bounties on our troops' heads. Also, if Trump had been straight with the American people, like, ever, especially on matters pertaining to Russia, instead of sticking his fingers in his holes and shouting "THIS RUSHUR HOAX, WITH TRUMP AND RUSHUR!" Maybe we could have trusted that the previous administration would figure out if the story was true and then do something about it if so.
As it is, perhaps we should just go with "maybe Trump didn't let Russia do this ONE awful thing" and save the victory laps for never.
You ready for the biggun'? Here is the biggun'.
Yes Collusion! Yes Collusion! Let's Close The Circle On HERE'S THE FUCKING COLLUSION!
We mentioned that part of this sanctions package hits individuals directly. And guess who's on the list? That's right, it is Paul Manafort's business partner/Russian spy buddy Konstantin Kilimnik! And if we are today less sure about what happened or did not happen with Russian bounties, we are more sure than ever about what Kilimnik did in 2016, and also in 2020.
During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy. Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In 2018, Kilimnik was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice regarding unregistered lobbying work.
Oh, that is some bold language! The Biden Treasury Department just came right out and said the thing we've been suspecting all along!
You know the story, or should, if you read Wonkette, because we harp on it at least once a month.
Kilimnik is the guy Manafort was passing internal Trump campaign Rust Belt polling models before the 2016 election. It always seemed pretty clear Kilimnik was probably handing that data to Putin's favorite oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who was also one of their business associates. But we were never sure! He is the guy Manafort lied to special counsel Robert Mueller the most about, according to the Mueller Report, and neither Mueller nor the Senate Intelligence Committee (SSCI) could suss out exactly what they were doing, because of the lies, and because they used encrypted apps that deleted their comms.
Mueller assessed Kilimnik to have "ties" to Russian intelligence. SSCI in its Russia report outright called him a spy. (Reminder: The committee was then run by Republicans!) SSCI had info suggesting Kilimnik was somehow "connected to the GRU's hack and leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election." SSCI also thought Manafort himself may have been connected to the Russian hacking in 2016. But still, it was not entirely clear what Kilimnik did with Manafort's Rust Belt polling data.
In case you are missing the significance of the language accompanying the new sanctions here, follow the bouncing ball: We have now progressed from Mueller saying Kilimnik has "ties" to Russian intelligence, to Senate Intel calling him a fucking spy, to Biden's Treasury Department outright saying Kilimnik "provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy" in 2016. Just as we suspected all along!
Last month, when the Biden administration released its National Intelligence Council's (NIC) unclassified assessment of foreign attacks on the 2020 election, it named Kilimnik as one of the Russian actors who also attacked the 2020 election, albeit with clearly less success this time around. So of course the new sanctions announcement mentions that.
Kilimnik is obviously still hiding in Russia, but remember how starting around February, the FBI put up a fancy new "wanted" poster offering $250,000 to anybody who can help apprehend Kiliminik so he can face justice? If you forgot, the Treasury Department spelled it out in its press release and included the poster:
No collusion! No collusion! YOU are the collusion!
Just kidding no you aren't.
And while there's still a hell of a lot we don't know, we have learned a BIG thing that is a big fuckin' deal.
How long has Wonkette been saying it's all Manafort? One hundred years, that's how long. How long has Wonkette been correct about that, apparently?
[Sanctions press release / Washington Post / Daily Beast]
Follow Evan Hurst on Twitter RIGHT HERE, DO IT RIGHT HERE!
If you happen to have some extra money right now, we would take it.
Evan Hurst is the managing editor of Wonkette, which means he is the boss of you, unless you are Rebecca, who is boss of him. His dog Lula is judging you right now.
Follow him on Twitter RIGHT HERE.