In 2016, Russia attacked the U.S. political system in the hopes of putting Donald Trump in power. Last month, the U.S. intelligence community confirmed that Vladimir Putin's government did it again in 2020.
This fact, coupled with the SolarWinds cyberattack, left little doubt that President Joe Biden -- the target of the Kremlin's 2020 offensive -- would announce new sanctions targeting Russia. The Democrat did exactly that this morning, blacklisting several Russian companies, sanctioning dozens of entities and individuals, and expelling 10 personnel from the Russian embassy.
But as part of today's announcement, the administration also disclosed a striking new detail. From the NBC News report:
One of the Russians listed is Konstantin Kilimnik, a former employee of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort whom U.S. officials have identified as a Russian intelligence agent. The Treasury Department said Thursday that Kilimnik provided Russian intelligence services "with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy" during the U.S. presidential election in 2016 and "sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election."
The information was mentioned almost in passing as part of the Treasury Department's sanctions announcement, and the most relevant sentence was just 21 words: "During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy."
Why is this so extraordinary? Let's take a minute to review for readers who may need a refresher.
Kilimnik's name probably sounds familiar. After all, it was just last year when, according to the U.S. intelligence community, the Russian agent tried to boost Trump's re-election prospects.
But Kilimnik's work four years earlier was even more notable. Paul Manafort, in his capacity as Donald Trump's 2016 campaign chairman, shared sensitive internal campaign information with the Russian operative during the race, making Kilimnik one of the stars of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report.
What we didn't know for sure is what Kilimnik did with the information he received from the Trump campaign. Today, the Treasury Department filled in the blank: Kilimnik relayed the information to Russian Intelligence Services.
It's possible that Treasury got a little ahead of itself here, and overstated what it can prove, but if the information is accurate, it's both new and important. In fact, Ryan Goodman, former special counsel at the Pentagon, described it as a "missing link" in the scandal.
Why? Because it appears to further solidify the flow of information: Trump's campaign chairman was indirectly feeding information to Russian Intelligence Services, by way of a Russian operative who was trying to help get Trump elected.
I'm mindful of the debate surrounding the opaque definition of "collusion" -- a political term, not a legal one -- but let's review what we know.
According to the information released to the public through the Mueller report and the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee, Trump's political operation in 2016 sought Russian assistance, embraced Russian assistance, capitalized on Russian assistance, lied about Russian assistance, and took steps to obstruct the investigation into Russian assistance.
All the while, the man overseeing Trump's political operation was sharing sensitive internal campaign information with a Russian operative, who apparently conveyed that information to Russian Intelligence Services.
Anyone telling you this scandal is a "hoax" is trying to deceive you.
Postscript: In case this isn't obvious, let's also not forget that, shortly before Christmas, Donald Trump pardoned Paul Manafort, rewarding him for refusing to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement.