Tanzina Vega: Blink and you may have missed it. Last week the Senate Intelligence Committee released a nearly 1,000-page report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The document laid out in new detail links between the Trump campaign and Russia, often going beyond what Robert Muller had revealed in his report last spring. For more on what we learned, we're turning to my colleague Andrea Bernstein. She's the co-host of Trump, Inc., a podcast from WNYC and ProPublica. She's also the author of American Oligarchs coming out in paperback, October 6th. Andrea, so good to talk to you.
Andrea Bernstein: It's so good to talk to you, Tanzina.
Tanzina: Remember the Senate Intelligence Committee in this report? This actually draws a line between the Muller investigation and the impeachment hearings from what we understand. Tell us how they did that.
Andrea: Yes. This report, which I have been immersed in many of its 966 pages with copious thousands of footnotes, all of which are worth reading. I've been immersed in it for the past week and it's a really an extraordinary document for its level of detail, but also because it was endorsed by a bipartisan committee, which makes it unique among all of the different investigations that we've had of what happened in the 2020 election.
What's so interesting about this report is because it is untethered from what the Muller report was tied to, which is to say, namely, "Was there a crime committed?" It lays out a very concerning narrative of what happened in 2016, and also how the disinformation and the cover-up continues to this day.
Tanzina: In the report, we learn more about a man that you and I have talked about in the past, Konstantin Kilimnik, and his dealings with Paul Manafort. Remember that name? Who was President Trump's former campaign chairman, who was convicted in the Muller probe. What did we learn about Kilimnik?
Andrea: It is really extraordinary because as I read this report and live the reality of the 2020 convention, I think back to 2016, when Paul Manafort was in charge of-- for the Republican Party. He was in charge of the messaging. He was in charge of rounding up the delegates for then-nominee, Donald Trump. We saw what was happening on the surface, and we were interpreting it in real-time. What we see in this report was what was happening under the surface, and that was that Paul Manafort, the head of Donald Trump's campaign, had a close and ongoing business relationship with a Russian intelligence officer named Konstantin Kilimnik, and that Konstantin Kilimnik had experience in election interference over more than a decade, working with oligarchs and others very close to the Kremlin.
That's what was going on and that's what we learned four years ago, almost exactly today, when President Trump, or then just candidate Donald Trump, was trying to achieve the presidency.
Tanzina: There are also questions in the report about how forthcoming President Trump was with Robert Muller, the former Special Counsel. What did that determine? Did the President lie to Robert Muller?
Andrea: Well, the report pretty clearly shows how he did. In a criminal defense, you have wide latitude with saying, "I don't recall." However, if this were a prosecution, which as I said, it's not, you could weigh the number of contacts and the volume of information versus somebody's non-recollection. What happens in this report is that the report shows that there were hundreds of contacts between Roger Stone and top Trump campaign aides. There were also direct contacts with Donald Trump, and what were they talking about? They were talking about when Wikileaks would release its tranche of stolen documents, of documents that it had stolen from the DNC, President Trump, as laid out in the report, would frequently use his security guards' phone to hide from people that he was speaking to Roger Stone.
The report really lays out as non-credible what Trump told Muller in a sworn statement, which was that he did not recall any conversations with Roger Stone, and he didn't recall any specific conversations between June and November of 2016, when we see clearly from this report is bolstered by witness testimony, phone records that there were many, many contacts between Roger Stone and Donald Trump during this time about specifically the documents that the Russians had stolen.
Tanzina: The report also mentions Ivanka Trump's efforts, or at least contact with the documents that were being released by WikiLeaks. What do we know about her relationship there with those documents?
Andrea: It's so interesting and one of the things that you can really see in the report is how the Russians were so well-organized. They had many ways that they were trying to get their hooks into the Trump campaign, one of which, just one of which was the vector through Paul Manafort, who obviously led the campaign for a while. There is this concerted campaign to get Manafort into his position in the campaign and part of it goes by lobbying Ivanka, and Ivanka is convinced and she sends an email to her father that says, "Daddy, Tom says we should get Paul." Tom is Tom Barrack, a financier and a friend of the Trumps.
It shows how the Manafort-Kilimnik side was very, very, very deliberate in what they were doing, and then they reach this family business and just walk right in.
We also see how later in the campaign, even after it became clear, even after it was public, when US intelligence agencies said, "These documents were stolen by Russia," Ivanka Trump directed the senior campaign aides to send two tweets a day about the WikiLeaks content. Now, what they have said, what especially Ivanka Trump's Jared Kushner has said, is that these documents were in the public realm, and they were merely pointing people to things that were in the public realm, and the report really raises the question of, here's stolen materials used by someone who wants to be the president of the United States. That is something that is highly questionable and they go even further. They say that their actions in an entirety, the Trump campaign's actions in their entirety were a grave. counterintelligence risk.
Tanzina: This this was questionable activity by the President. Was it illegal?
Andrea: The Justice Department has made the determination that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted. That's why Muller did not charge Trump with any crimes. You are not allowed to lie to federal investigators and if the Justice Department were pursuing this as a crime, it would weigh the idea of, "Did President Trump lie to federal investigators?" In fact, Roger Stone himself was indicted and convicted of lying to investigators and lying to Congress. That was before his sentence was commuted by President Trump.
That is a very serious charge. There's also something else that is just threaded through this report, is all of the ways that Trump and his campaign tried to hide their contacts. I mentioned the use of his security guard's phone. We also saw that Paul Manafort, his campaign manager, Rick Gates, his deputy campaign manager, Roger Stone, and many others used encrypted apps which destroyed and obscured their conversations. If this were a criminal prosecution, you could use this kind of behavior as something that's known as consciousness of guilt. Consciousness of guilt can in fact be evidence of guilt. We're all speaking hypothetically at this point, because the Justice Department has made quite clear it is not going to charge President Trump with any crimes, but there is certainly plenty of cover-up which leaps out of these 966 pages.
What's so extraordinary is that Republicans who have otherwise publicly dismissed the findings and said it didn't find collusion have in fact endorsed this report, which if you just read the words on the page, suggests something entirely different.
Tanzina: Andrea, we are less than 80 days away from the 2020 election. What does this report and other previous reports from the Senate Intelligence Committee really tell us about the potential for our 2020 election to have Russian interference?
Andrea: Well, I think it is pretty clear that these things are ongoing. We know they're ongoing because we can see them in plain sight. One of the things that the report lays out is how the counter-narrative to the Russia investigation, which is that this was a hoax, which was it was really Ukraine that interfered in the election, is that that narrative came directly from the Kremlin, and that is laid out in the report how it came from the Kremlin, it came from Paul Manafort, that part of this active measures attack on America was creating the seeds of a narrative that would reject it. We have seen that this week in the Republican Convention. We saw representative Jim Jordan on Monday night referring to the Russia hoax, and if you read through this report carefully, you can see that the bipartisan Senate committee rejects that this was a hoax, and they say, in fact, the line that it was a hoax, the idea that it was a hoax, the idea that it may be started in Ukraine and that it didn't really happen, that originated from the Kremlin.
So, not only did they create this campaign of influence, but they created a situation where trying to investigate it would prod a narrative that also came from the Kremlin, and I think that is so extraordinary because we are living through it.
Tanzina: Andrea Bernstein is the co-host of Trump, Inc., a podcast from WNYC and ProPublica. She's also the author of American Oligarchs, which will be out in paperback, October 6th. Andrea, thanks so much.
Andrea: Thank you so much, Tanzina. Great to be able to talk to you about this.
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