In a somewhat heated exchange with Rep. Matt Gaetz last night, CNN’s Chris Cuomo cited the case of Paul Manafort sharing a poll with Ukranian/Russian political consultant Konstantin Kilimnik in making an obscure case for collusion (while Robert Mueller’s special counsel has uncovered zero evidence of it).
"Bob Mueller is more Republican than you've been on your best day." @ChrisCuomo fires back at Trump ally, Republican Rep. @mattgaetz who was painting Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team as allies of the Clintons and Obamas. https://t.co/Riw0FMuZyf pic.twitter.com/or4eVNHdvv
— Cuomo Prime Time (@CuomoPrimeTime) March 13, 2019
The sharing was revealed in an unredacted filing against Manafort filed in January. The filing disclosed that “The Government concludes… that Mr. Manafort’s initial responses to inquiries about his meetings and interactions with Mr. Kilimnik were lies to the OSC attorneys and investigators… The same is true with regard to the Government’s allegation that Mr. Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign.” Manafort asked Kilimnik to pass the data to Ukrainians Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov. The legal filing gives no indication that President Donald Trump knew of the matter (and remember that Manafort only actually worked for Trump for about four and a half months before being fired).
We don’t know what the poll was of, but it likely contained a cross-tabulation showing how voters reacted to different election-related questions. There are a few reasons why this is flimsy proof of collusion;
- This is a poll we’re speaking of. If the Russians (or anyone) really wanted to measure public opinion on an issue, nothing is stopping them from commissioning a poll on their own. Russia has outlets operating in the U.S. that regularly conduct polling on the issues, such as Sputnik.
- Even if the Russian government weren’t to carry out their own poll, there is no shortage of polling data in the world. Numerous polling organizations regularly poll on the exact same issues. It’s relatively easy to find some measure of public opinion on any issue you can think up.
- Are we supposed to believe there’s something sinister in sharing a poll with someone?
Most importantly of all, if Cuomo wants to view this as a form of “collusion by proxy,” by his own logic there was more direct collision in favor of the Clinton campaign going on. As the Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross uncovered, back in October the former Fusion GPS contractor Nellie Ohr testified to lawmakers that the Ukranian lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko had been a source of theirs. Fusion GPS was the firm responsible for British spy Christopher Steele’s bogus dossier.
Nellie Ohr did not describe the Leshchenko-Fusion GPS source relationship in greater detail, so it is not clear whether the Ukrainian lawmaker was paid, how he transmitted information to Fusion or with whom at the firm he maintained contact. Nellie Ohr did not testify whether she handled information from Leshchenko or if she provided it to her husband, who served as associate deputy attorney general and director of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
As anyone who had the chance to read Spygate knows, there already was a strong case to be made for Ukranian collusion with members of the Clinton campaign, so this is just more icing on the cake. Unlike Manafort, Leshchenko has been charged for illegally interfering in the U.S. election.
On Dec. 11, 2018, a court in Kyiv ruled that Leshchenko’s release of information about Manafort “led to interference in the electoral processes of the United States in 2016 and harmed the interests of Ukraine as a state.”
That was because “Leshchenko, a member of Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, is widely credited with publishing a so-called ‘black ledger’ [which is probably bogus] that purported to show that Manafort received $12.7 million in illicit cash payments through 2012 from then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.” Days after publishing the ledger, Leshchenko told the Financial Times that “A Trump presidency would change the pro-Ukrainian agenda in American foreign policy. For me, it was important to show not only the corruption aspect but that he is [a] pro-Russian candidate who can break the geopolitical balance in the world.” It’s clear what his motivation was – to collude in an effort to take Trump down.
Unlike the Mueller indictments of Russians who tried to interfere in the election, but had no connection to Trump whatsoever, Fusion GPS was on the Clinton payroll. For a network that reports on so much imaginary collusion, it’s a bit strange CNN hasn’t reported on the real thing.