Russian Oligarch’s Ties To Manafort, Steele Posed Intel Risks, Senate Report Says

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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  • A report from the Senate Intelligence Committee mentions Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska nearly 350 times, mostly for his connections to two operatives on opposite sides of “Russiagate.” 
  • Trump-Russia dossier author Christopher Steele worked on Deripaska’s behalf from 2012 to 2017, the report says.
  • Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort worked for Deripaska from 2004 until falling out over a business dispute in 2009.
  • The Senate report and a former CIA station chief say that both of Deripaska’s connections present counterintelligence concerns for the U.S.  

A Russian oligarch’s links to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and dossier author Christopher Steele posed counterintelligence risks for the U.S., according to a Senate report and a former CIA station chief for Moscow.

Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire aluminum magnate, is mentioned 341 times in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report released on Tuesday on Russia’s efforts to cozy up to Trump associates.

Deripaska’s connections to both Manafort and Steele have confounded investigators who have tried to figure out what role if any he played in the Russiagate saga. Manafort began working for Deripaska in 2004, but the pair were engaged in a business dispute at the time Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016.

Steele began working for Deripaska’s attorneys in 2012, and continued to do so until at least early 2017.

The Senate report said that Manafort’s ties to Deripaska posed a “grave counterintelligence risk” because the Republican operative was financially vulnerable to the Russian billionaire. Manafort sent emails after he joined the Trump campaign asking how he could use his position to “get whole” with Deripaska. Manafort also offered to provide private briefings to Deripaska. (RELATED: Senate Intel Committee Releases Russia Counterintelligence Report)

The Senate committee assessed that Steele’s connection to Deripaska created “a potential direct channel for Russian influence on the dossier,” which the FBI used in its investigation of the Trump campaign, and which many in the media touted as evidence of Trump-Russia collusion.

Daniel Hoffman, a former CIA station chief for Moscow, agrees with both assessments. “Manafort is vulnerable, greedy, avaricious, that’s the guy you want to go after,” Hoffman told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Manafort, who is serving a 90-month prison sentence for a variety of financial crimes, shared internal Trump campaign polling data in August 2016 with his longtime business associate, Konstantin Kilimnik. According to the Senate report, Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer and served as the chief liaison between Deripaska and Manafort.

Christopher Steele in London (VICTORIA JONES/GETTY IMAGES)

The report also said that Deripaska, once considered one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies, conducts “influence operations” on Russia’s behalf in foreign countries.

“The Russian government coordinates with and directs Deripaska on many of his influence operations,” the report said.

Rumors have long circulated that Kilimnik was affiliated with Russian intelligence, and the Senate report notes that Manafort and Rick Gates, a Trump campaign official who worked for Manafort, harbored suspicions that Kilimnik was a Kremlin-linked spy.

While the Trump campaign polling data that Manafort provided Kilimnik appeared to be innocuous, Hoffman said that the goal of a Russian spy operation would be to groom Manafort to eventually provide more sensitive information down the road.

“The idea would be to get him conditioned to providing information,” said Hoffman, who retired in 2017 after a 30-year CIA career.

“If you’re in for a penny you’re in for a pound. Give me some stuff that’s not important. Next time I ask it won’t be about something so easily accessible or superfluous,” he added.

“That’s wildly disturbing.”

Democrats and other Trump critics seized on the Senate report’s findings about Manafort, Kilimnik and Deripaska as evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.

The Senate report also makes a cryptic reference to Kilimnik’s possible participation in the hack of Democrats’ emails during the campaign. The report also raises the possibility that Manafort took part in the scheme, though the details are redacted in the 966-page document.

There is no indication in the Senate report that Trump or others on the campaign other than Rick Gates knew that Manafort gave information to Kilimnik. There is no indication that whatever Manafort was up to was directed by Donald Trump or others on the campaign.

One indication that Manafort was freelancing is the campaign’s decision in mid-August 2016 to fire him after reports that he received secret payments from the Ukrainian government for consulting work done on behalf of a pro-Kremlin political party.

Hoffman said that Steele’s work for Deripaska raises questions about whether the dossier author was “doing the bidding” of his Russian employer.

The Senate report noted that the dossier mentions Manafort around 20 times, but never in the context of his links to Deripaska and Kilimnik.

“Steele and his subsources appear to have neglected to include or missed in its entirety Paul Manafort’s business relationship with Deripaska, which provided Deripaska leverage over Manafort and a possible route of influence into the Trump Campaign,” the report says.

“It makes you kind of wonder about everything that Steele is doing or his motivation,” Hoffman told the DCNF.

Steele’s work for Deripaska appears to have covered a broad range of issues, including an investigation into Manafort’s finances.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort arrives to his arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court, on June 27, 2019 in New York City. (Yana Paskova/Getty Images)

Manafort arrives to his arraignment on June 27, 2019 (Yana Paskova/Getty Images)

The former MI6 officer investigated Manafort on Deripaska’s behalf at the time he started his work on the infamous dossier. Steele may also have outsourced some of the Manafort work to Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that had hired him for the dossier project.

Steele also tasked his primary dossier source, Igor Danchenko, with investigating Manafort in March 2016.

Steele also lobbied Justice Department official Bruce Ohr in 2015 and early 2016 to help Deripaska with problems he was having with his visa to the U.S. The government has at times blocked Deripaska from entering the country because of concerns that he is tied to organized criminal activity.

Steele also conducted an investigation for Deripaska’s lawyer, Paul Hauser, into the German company Bilfinger into 2017.

Deripaska acknowledged in a July 2019 interview with The Hill that his attorneys hired Steele for legal work in London.

Steele said that he has only ever met Deripaska once and that the oligarch would not have been able to influence the dossier. Deripaska has also denied links to the dossier.

“Steele declined to answer the Committee’s direct questions on whether he worked for Deripaska, but he said no client would have known about the dossier or provided input, other than Fusion GPS,” the Senate report said.

The Senate report echoed a Justice Department inspector general report released last year by suggesting that Deripaska may have somehow influenced Steele’s dossier work.

The IG report said that an intelligence community report from June 2017 said that a Russian oligarch believed to be Deripaska may have been aware of Steele’s investigation of the campaign in early July 2016. It also found that an FBI unit raised concerns in 2015 about Steele’s links to Russian oligarchs.

The report also said that the U.S. intelligence community produced a report in June 2017 that indicated that two affiliates of Russia’s intelligence service were aware of Steele’s investigation of Trump in early July 2016.

The IG report said that the FBI received evidence that Russian intelligence operatives may have fed disinformation to Steele’s sub-sources.

Manafort’s ties to Deripaska have received far more media attention than have the links to Steele.

A New York Times report on Manafort laid out his links to Deripaska, but neglected the report’s mentions of his ties to Steele. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius focused on the Manafort-Deripaska link as well, ignoring Steele’s work for the oligarch.

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