The man cast as a linchpin of debunked Trump-Russia collusion theories is breaking his silence to vigorously dispute the U.S. government's effort to brand him a Russian spy and put him behind bars.
In an exclusive interview with RealClearInvestigations, Konstantin Kilimnik stated, "I have no relationship whatsoever to any intelligence services, be they Russian or Ukrainian or American, or anyone else."
Kilimnik, a longtime employee of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, spoke out in response to an explosive Treasury Department statement declaring that he had "provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy" during the 2016 election. That press release, which announced an array of sanctions on Russian nationals last month, also alleged that Kilimnik is a "known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf."
Treasury's claim came shortly after two other accusatory U.S. government statements about the dual Ukrainian-Russian national. In March, a U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment accused Kilimnik of being a "Russian influence agent" who meddled in the 2020 campaign to assist Trump's reelection. A month earlier, an FBI alert offered $250,000 for information leading to his arrest over a 2018 witness tampering charge in Manafort's shuttered Ukraine lobbying case, which was unrelated to Russia, collusion, or any elections.
Treasury provided no evidence for its claims, which go beyond the findings of the two most extensive Russiagate investigations: the 448-page report issued in 2019 by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the 966-page report issued in August 2020 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Treasury has declined all media requests for elaboration on how it reached conclusions that those probes did not. Two unidentified officials told NBC News that U.S. intelligence "has developed new information" about Kilimnik "that leads them to believe" (emphasis added) that he passed on the polling data to Russia. But these sources "did not identify the source or type of intelligence that had been developed," nor "when or how" it was received.
"Nobody has seen any evidence to support these claims about Kilimnik," a congressional source familiar with the House and Senate's multiple Russia-related investigations told RCI.
Despite the absence of evidence, the Treasury press release's one-sentence claim about Kilimnik has been widely greeted as the Trump-Russia smoking gun. Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who heads the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC that Treasury's assertion about Kilimnik proved that Russian intelligence was "involved in trying to help Trump win in that  election. That's what most people would call collusion."
Speaking to RCI in fluent English from his home in Moscow, Kilimnik, 51, described these U.S. government assertions as "senseless and false accusations."
His comments are backed up by documents, some previously unreported, as well as by Rick Gates, a longtime Manafort associate and key Mueller probe cooperating witness. (Gates pleaded guilty to making a false statement and to failing to register as a foreign agent in connection to his lobbying work in Ukraine.) The evidence raises doubts about new efforts to revive the Trump-Kremlin collusion narrative by casting Kilimnik as a central Russian figure.
"They needed a Russian to investigate 'Russia collusion,' and I happened to be that Russian," Kilimnik said.
Highlights from the interview and RCI's related reporting:
Kilminik has provided an inviting target for proponents of Trump-Russia conspiracy theories. He was born in 1970 in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union, and later worked for Paul Manafort as a translator and aide there. This background makes him one of the few people in the broad Trump 2016 campaign orbit to possess a Russian passport.
To this Mueller and others have added a series of ambiguous and disputed allegations to say that the FBI "assesses" him to "have ties to Russian intelligence." This characterization, first made in a 2017 court filing, quickly transmogrified into a presumed fact of the collusion narrative.
Rather than prosecute Manafort for any crime related to Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, the Mueller team instead pursued him on financial and lobbying charges involving his pre-Trump stint as a political consultant in Ukraine. In 2018, it accused Kilimnik of seeking to pressure two "potential witnesses" by sending them text messages about Manafort's Ukraine lobbying work.
As the Russia probe came to a close without a single indictment related to a Trump-Kremlin conspiracy, the Mueller team used Kilimnik to suggest collusion without formally alleging it.
In January 2019, the Mueller team accused Manafort of breaching their cooperation agreement by lying about his interactions with his Russian employee. Topping the list were alleged false statements about sharing election polling data with Kilimnik in 2016.
"This goes to the larger view of what we think is going on, and what we think is the motive here," lead prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC. "This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating."
Weissmann's musings became collusion fodder. Media pundits and influential Democrats, namely Congressional intelligence leaders Schiff and Mark Warner, speculated that Kilimnik shared Trump campaign polling data with Russian intelligence officers as they allegedly worked to turn the election in Trump's favor. "This appears as the closest we've seen yet to real, live, actual collusion," Warner told CNN. "Clearly, Manafort was trying to collude with Russian agents."
But soon after, the Mueller team quietly undercut Weissmann's "larger view" and the conspiratorial innuendo that it had fueled. One month after igniting the frenzy about the polling data, Weissmann submitted a heavily redacted court filing that walked back some of his claims. The following month, the Special Counsel's final report acknowledged that its musings and speculations about Kilimnik could not be corroborated. The Mueller team not only "did not identify evidence of a connection between Manafort’s sharing polling data and Russia’s interference in the election," as the report stated, but also "could not assess what Kilimnik (or others he may have given it to) did with it."
"I have no idea who made up the lies about 'detailed' or 'sensitive' polling data, or why they did it," Kilimnik says. "They were mostly quotes of the polls from the media, such as LA Times and others. They would be 'Clinton – 43, Trump – 42.' Never anything more detailed. I never got even a page printed out with either polling data or any other info."
This public data was shared, Kilimnik says, with Ukrainian clients of Manafort's as part of both regular political chatter and an effort to encourage future business. "I shared this info with a lot of our clients in Ukraine, who were closely following the race and who were excited about Paul working for [Trump]," Kilimnik says.
If any government official did receive his polling data, Kilimnik adds, they were not Russian but rather from Ukraine or even the United States. "I would share it with our political contacts in Ukraine, basically to keep their interest to Paul and our Ukrainian business alive. Also I shared it with the U.S. and other embassies, basically offering the opinion that the election is not over."
Kilimnik's account is corroborated by Gates, the ex-Manafort associate and Trump campaign official whose testimony was used by the Mueller team – deceptively, he says – to suggest a connection between the polling data and possible Trump-Russia collusion. The Special Counsel's office "relied heavily on Mr. Gates for evidence" about the polling data, the New York Times noted in February 2019.
According to Gates, that reliance entailed significant creative license by Mueller's prosecutors, particularly Weissmann. Gates says he told the Special Counsel's Office that the polling data was not sensitive information, but rather publicly available figures taken from media outlets.
"I explained to them, over the course of many interviews, what the polling data was about, and why it was being shared," Gates told RCI. "All that was exchanged was old, topline data from public polls and from some internal polls, but all dated, nothing in real time. So for example, Trump 48, Clinton 46. It was not massive binders full of demographics or deep research. No documents were ever shared or disclosed. And this is part of what Mueller left out of the report. They cherry-picked and built a narrative that really was not true, because they had pre-determined the conclusion."
Asked why Manafort shared any polling data with clients in Ukraine, Kilimnik and Gates stressed the same reason: money. "The were some outstanding debts, which we were working to get repaid, which never happened," Kilimnik says. "And there was also Paul's reputation. He was very well known to a lot of people in Kiev, and he hoped [he] could generate some new business" by showcasing his work for Trump's campaign.
"This was a way that Paul was using to let people in Ukraine know that he was doing very well in the United States running the election of Donald Trump, and that he was trying to collect the remaining fees that he was owed," for prior work in Ukraine, Gates says. "He was trying to position himself. This is not unlike any other political operative, Republican or Democrat, in politics. They all do it." Rather than highlight Gates' account that the polling data was shared for financial reasons, the Mueller report mentioned it in passing and ultimately concluded that it "could not reliably determine Manafort's purpose in sharing" the information.
Weissmann did not respond to a request for comment.
Although the Mueller report walked back Weissman’s innuendo regarding polling data, its assertion that Kilimnik has “ties to Russian intelligence" remains a foundation of the Russia collusion narrative.
Putting aside the fact that the government has never produced any evidence that Kilimnik communicated with Russian intelligence or the Kremlin, RCI has obtained documents that undercut the government’s basis for assuming those unspecified "ties."
In Mueller's own telling, Kilimnik's only direct link to the Russian government was his enrollment in a Soviet military academy from 1987 to 1992, where he trained as a linguist. "It's a language school, similar to what you guys have in Fort Monterey," Kilimnik said, referring to the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, in Monterey, California. "It's a university that trains military translators, mostly for the army, not for the intelligence services. Basically it was a military training, for five years, focusing on English and Swedish. In normal circumstances, I would actually go and serve in the army, but because Soviet Union was falling apart, I was able to get a job as the instructor of Swedish at the university. I never served in the real army. If teaching Swedish counts as spying – that will be very surprising."
To substantiate Kilimnik's alleged Russian intelligence "ties," the Mueller team wrote that Kilimnik "obtained a visa to travel to the United States with a Russian diplomatic passport in 1997." (Intelligence operatives often travel to foreign countries under diplomatic cover.)
But Kilimnik's passport from that period – to judge from the images he shared with RCI via a messaging app – was issued in the standard red color, not in the green color of the diplomatic corps. The document also contains a regular U.S. visa issued on October 28, 1997 – the same date the Mueller report claims he traveled to the U.S. "with a Russian diplomatic passport." The U.S. visa to Kilimnik is issued under the category of "R" – which stands for Regular – and "B1/B2," the designation for a temporary visa for business and tourism.
The Mueller team's claim that he possessed and traveled on a diplomatic passport is "a blatant lie," Kilimnik told RCI. "I never had a diplomatic passport in my life. It's one of many very sloppy things in the Muller report, which don't make sense."
Told of the Mueller report's apparent error concerning Kilimnik's passport, a Justice Department spokesperson declined comment. Former Special Counsel Mueller and former lead prosecutor Weissmann did not respond to emailed queries.
Ironically, at the time when Mueller team claims that he visited the U.S. on behalf of the Russian government, Kilimnik was in fact working for the U.S. government at the U.S. Congress-funded International Republican Institute (IRI) in Moscow. As RealClearInvestigations has previously reported, Kilimnik's 10-year IRI tenure is among several substantial Western government connections that have been ignored in amid efforts to accuse him of ties to the Russian government. "I gave IRI my CV which clearly said which school I graduated from, and gave my detailed background," Kilimnik recalls. "I never concealed anything."
When it comes to his travel history, Kilimnik says that the Special Counsel's Office made another significant error: falsely claiming that he and Manafort held a meeting in Spain.
When Manafort denied that he and Kilimnik met in Madrid in 2017, the Mueller team accused him of lying and cited this as one of several alleged breaches of their cooperation agreement. The Mueller report claims that the two met in the Spanish capital on Feb. 26, 2017, "where Kilimnik had flown from Moscow."
It also states that Manafort initially denied the Madrid meeting in his first two interviews with the Special Counsel's office, but then relented "after being confronted with documentary evidence that Kilimnik was in Madrid at the same time as him."
But Kilimnik tells RCI that no such meeting occurred, and that he believes that Manafort was coerced into changing his story.
"I have never been to Madrid in my life," Kilimnik says. The "documentary evidence" referenced in the Mueller report was, he speculates, a flight booking that was ultimately cancelled. "I was thinking about going to Madrid, and I discussed it with Paul," he says. "But it made no sense. And ultimately, it was too expensive. So I didn't go."
Had he actually visited Madrid, Kilimnik says, the Mueller team would have "easily found proof – tickets, boarding passes, border crossings – all that stuff. It's not rocket science to get it. The European Union is a pretty disciplined place. There would be at least be a record of me crossing the border somewhere in the EU."
Kilimnik told RCI that the last time he saw Manafort was one month before the alleged Madrid trip, around the time of Trump’s inauguration in Janaury 2017. "I did not attend any of the inauguration events myself," he recalls. "But I spent some time to meet with Paul, and to catch up. That was our last meeting in-person, in Alexandria [Virginia]."
Asked why Manafort would have admitted to a Madrid meeting that did not in fact take place, Kilimnik said that his former boss faced heavy pressure while locked up by the Mueller team, which included a long stint in solitary confinement. "I don't know why he said that. I have difficulties to imagine Paul's psychological state when he was jailed. A guy who [had] a very high-level life. Jail is a tough place. I still get the shudders to think what he had to go through."
The allegation that Manafort lied to the Mueller team proved consequential. In February 2019, U.S. District Judge Jackson sided with the Special Counsel and voided Manafort's plea deal. No longer bound to give him a reduced sentence for cooperating, Jackson nearly doubled Manafort's prison term on top of his earlier conviction and excoriated him for telling "lies." President Trump pardoned in Manafort in December 2020.
Told that Kilimnik denies ever visiting Madrid, and asked whether the Special Counsel's office collected concrete evidence to the contrary, both former Special Counsel Mueller and lead prosecutor Weissmann did not respond. A Justice Department spokesperson declined comment.
Over one year after Mueller closed up shop, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) unilaterally upgraded Kilimnik's alleged Russian intelligence status. The panel's August 2020 report declared that Kilimnik, far from merely having "ties" to the GRU as Mueller had claimed, is in fact a full-fledged "Russian intelligence officer."
The Senate made the leap despite offering no new public evidence to support its explosive "assessment", and even acknowledging that its "power to investigate" – as well as "its staffing, resources, and technical capabilities" -- ultimately "falls short of the FBI's."
The Senate also labelled Kilimnik a Russian spy despite simultaneously presenting new evidence that he was, in the Committee's own words, a "valuable resource" for officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, with whom he was "in regular contact."
In September 2020, RCI asked the FBI and Justice Department whether it shares the SSCI's judgment that Kilimnik is a "Russian intelligence officer." A DOJ spokesperson replied that "the Mueller report speaks for itself," and advised that the public "defer" to how Kilimnik was characterized in the Mueller report and the Special Counsel Office's indictments. This strongly suggested, RCI reported, that the FBI has not adopted the SSCI's view that Kilimnik is a Russian spy.
The FBI’s February "alert" offering $250,000 for information leading to Kilimnik's arrest bolsters this reporting. It once again states that Kilimnik is "assessed by the FBI to have ties to Russian intelligence" – shunning the SSCI's spy language and reverting to Mueller's original, ambiguous characterization.
The wording of the FBI alert underscores that while the Senate Intelligence Committee and Treasury Department have declared that Kilimnik is a Russian spy, the nation's top law enforcement agency has never adopted that assessment. When Manafort's legal team asked the Special Counsel's Office for any communication between Manafort and "Russian intelligence officials," they were told that "there are no materials responsive to [those] requests." In unsealed notes from early 2017, Peter Strzok – the top FBI counterintelligence agent who opened the Trump-Russia investigation – wrote: "We are unaware of ANY Trump advisers engaging in conversations with Russian intelligence officials."
Asked whether the FBI has altered its characterization of Kilimnik in light of Treasury's claim that he is a "known Russian Intelligence Services agent", an FBI spokesperson declined comment.
The FBI's alert was also remarkable for the size of the Kilimnik bounty, which is more than double the amount of most members of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List. While the bureau is offering $100,000 each for information regarding six alleged murderers, and $200,000 for another, the FBI is offering $250,000 for help nabbing Kilimnik on a lone witness tampering charge in Manafort's Ukraine lobbying case.
The Mueller team accused Kilimnik of sending text messages to two individuals with whom Manafort had worked during his Ukraine lobbying days. Kilimnik's aim, the Special Counsel's Office alleged, was to pressure the pair to attest that their prior work was focused on lobbying officials in Europe, not in the United States. These individuals – identified in court documents as "Person D1" and "Person D2" – were not active witnesses for the Mueller probe, but instead, according to the Special Counsel's Office, "potential witnesses."
The 13 Kilimnik messages to these "potential witnesses" cited by Mueller include the following:
[Person D2], hi! How are you? Hope you are doing fine. ;))
My friend P [Manafort] is trying to reach [Person D1] to brief him on what's going on.
If you have a chance to mention this to [Person D1] - would be great.
Basically P wants to give him a quick summary that he says to everybody (which is true) that our friends never lobbied in the U.S., and the purpose of the program was EU.
Hi. This is [Kilimnik]. My friend P is looking for ways to connect to you to pass you several messages. Can we arrange that.
Kilimnik says that he was not trying to tamper with anyone. "I do not understand how two messages to our old partners who helped us get out the message about Ukraine's integration aspirations in EU, and asking them to get in touch with Paul, can be interpreted as 'intimidation' or 'obstruction of justice,'" he says.
Whether or not Kilimnik sought to tamper with "potential witnesses" in Manafort's Ukraine lobbying case, the alleged 2018 infraction has nothing to do with 2016 Trump-Russia collusion.
The FBI alert from February raises questions about the bombshell Treasury Department claims released two months later. If the U.S. government stands by Treasury's claims about Kilimnik, why is he wanted only on a minor, non-Russia related witness-tampering charge, and not for taking part in alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election? If Kilimnik indeed passed on "sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy" to Russian intelligence while working as a spy, why has he not been indicted alongside the Russian social media company charged by Mueller in February 2018, or the Russian intelligence officers charged by Mueller in July 2018?
To Kilimnik, the answer is found on that same Russian passport that Mueller mischaracterized. "It is clear to me that the indictment of 2018 was pulled out of the thin air, simply to have a Russian face in the mix," he says. "I understand that they needed a Russian to investigate 'Russia collusion,' and I happened to be that Russian," he says.
"The funny thing is that I'm not hiding. And I would have explained the same thing to the FBI or anyone who never reached out to me. They don't because they don't want the truth."
In Kilimnik's eyes, his utility as a Russian national for the Trump-Russia collusion narrative also explains his prominent inclusion in the recent U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment, released in March one month after the FBI alert for his arrest.
In yet another new iteration of how Kilimnik is described by the U.S. government, the ICA does not call him a Russian intelligence officer, but instead a "Russian influence agent."
The ICA does not define the term "Russian influence agent," or explain how it reached that new assessment about Kilimnik. Nor does it put forth any evidence for the alleged Russian influence activities ascribed to him .
The report alleges that Kilimnik was part of a "network of Ukraine-linked individuals … connected to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB)" who "took steps throughout the  election cycle to damage U.S. ties to Ukraine, denigrate President Biden and his candidacy, and benefit former President Trump’s prospects for reelection."
As part of this alleged meddling network, the ICA asserts that Kilimnik tried to influence U.S. officials; helped produce a documentary that aired on U.S. television in January 2020; and worked with Andriy Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker alleged to have Kremlin ties. "Derkach, Kilimnik, and their associates sought to use prominent U.S. persons and media conduits to launder their narratives to U.S. officials and audiences," the ICA states.
Kilimnik says the U.S. intelligence officials who wrote those words are using their anonymity and power to launder their false narratives about him.
"I have no idea what they're talking about," he says. "I would really love to see at least one confirmation of the things they allege. Pulling me into this report with zero evidence really shows that [U.S. intelligence] people high up do not give a damn about the truth, facts, or anything."
As for Derkach, "I have never met him in my life," Kilimnik says. "I don't know why, or on what basis, they're making claims that he has any relationship to me."
"I had zero meetings with anybody related to the Trump campaign. In fact, I have tried to do my best – understanding how I've gotten into this mess – to stay as far as possible from any U.S. politics." If he had held such meetings, Kilimnik adds, "this should be easy to prove."
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to requests for comment.
Even though Kilimnik's name fills dozens of pages of the Mueller and Senate Intelligence reports after years of federal scrutiny and he is the target of a $250,000 FBI reward, this seemingly critical Russiagate figure has never been contacted by a single U.S. government official, to judge from the public record as well as Kilimnik's account.
The lack of contact is similar to the way FBI, Mueller, and Senate investigators treated other supposedly central Russiagate figures. When Joseph Mifsud, whose conversations with George Papadopoulos triggered the FBI's Trump-Russia probe, visited the U.S. in early 2017, the FBI subjected him to a light round of questioning and then let him leave the country. The Mueller team later claimed in its final report that Mifsud had lied to FBI agents, yet inexplicably did not indict him. Despite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's central role in publishing the stolen Democratic Party emails supposedly hacked and supplied by Russia, the Mueller team never contacted him and the Senate Intelligence Committee shunned an offer to interview him.
Kilimnik believes that this avoidance is deliberate. "The FBI and others could have had the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv or Moscow, or have any of my numerous contacts in the U.S., reach out and start a conversation, if they wanted info," he says. "But they do not really need it. All they is need is a scarecrow. And as one of the few people within reach of the Trump campaign who has a Russian passport, they picked me."
"They never reached out to me," he adds. "I never had a single contact with FBI or any government official, basically since charges were brought [on] Paul. Nobody ever tried to talk to me because they know the truth. They understood damn well that I will tell them what I'm telling you."
Kilimnik says that he has had only minimal contact with Manafort since the former Trump campaign chairman was released to home confinement in March 2020 and subsequently pardoned by Trump in late December. "We had one short contact after he got out of jail, basically catching up about family and kids and everything," Kilimnik recalls. "I want to give him time to just basically get his life back to normal. We have not spoken on the telephone."
After years in Ukraine working with Manafort, Kilimnik now lives full-time in Moscow with his wife and two children. "I have been pretty open all my life, and have not been hiding from anyone," Kilimnik says. "I would have been happy to answer any questions from the FBI, or whoever. But I refuse to be a toy in bizarre political games and have my life ruined more than it has been because of the senseless and false accusations."
Despite being labeled a Russian spy who meddled in the 2016 election, Kilimnik has no plans to return to the U.S. and try to clear his name. "I am not going to the U.S. on my own dime, with no visa in COVID times only to be crucified by the media, having zero chance of justice," he says. "This is a sad continuation of a deeply wrong story. I thought it would be over with Trump gone and the need to create lies about his 'ties to Russia.' But obviously, I was wrong."