- A private jet belonging to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska landed in the US shortly after a meeting between former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Russian military intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik.
- The news sheds light on a pivotal time in the 2016 US election, during which Manafort offered “private briefings” about the Trump campaign to Deripaska in a likely effort to resolve a financial dispute.
- Deripaska is closely tied to the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- Manafort, Kilimnik, and Deripaska are at the center of an FBI inquiry into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the 2016 race in his favour.
A private jet belonging to the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska arrived in the US shortly after a meeting between the then-chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign and a mysterious Russian operative who has now become the center of the Russia controversy, Vice News reported Friday.
According to the report, the jet linked to Deripaska landed in New Jersey in August 2016, within hours of the meeting between then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the former Russian military intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik. Weeks earlier, Manafort had emailed Kilimnik offering to give Deripaska “private briefings” about the campaign.
Though there was no evidence at the time that Deripaska received Manafort’s request or that the briefings took place, investigators believed Manafort’s offer created an opening that Russia could exploit to gain a foothold in the US election.
Friday’s report sheds light on those events and raises new questions about contacts between Deripaska, Manafort, and Kilimnik at the height of the 2016 race.
Manafort has acknowledged that he was in frequent contact with Kilimnik while serving as the Trump campaign’s chairman, saying he met with Kilimnik in May and August 2016. Deripaska’s jet arrived in the US shortly after the latter and landed in Newark, New Jersey. It was in the US for less than 24 hours, per the report, and the trip has now caught the eye of congressional investigators looking into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election.
The relationship between the three men has also drawn renewed scrutiny in recent weeks as special counsel Robert Mueller examines whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the 2016 election in his favour.
Three days before the his meeting with Manafort, Kilimnik wrote in an email to the Trump campaign chairman that he had “met today with the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar several years ago,” a reference to Deripaska’s previous loans to Manafort. “We spent about 5 hours talking about his story, and I have several important messages from him to you,” he wrote.
“I need about two hours because it is a long caviar story to tell,” he added.
Manafort said he and Kilimnik discussed the Trump campaign and the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee during the August 2, 2016 meeting. Kilimnik, meanwhile, said they did not discuss the campaign, but talked about “current news” and “unpaid bills.”
‘If he needs private briefings, we can accommodate’
Deripaska is a longtime ally of the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Manafort’s relationship with Deripaska, meanwhile, stretches back years and relates to the two men’s work pushing pro-Russian interests on the world stage.
Deripaska and Manafort worked together in 2006, when Deripaska signed a $US10 million annual contract with Manafort for a lobbying project in the US that Manafort said would “greatly benefit the Putin Government.”
But things haven’t always been rosy between them. Deripaska’s representatives claimed, in legal complaints filed in the Cayman Islands in 2014, that Manafort had disappeared after Deripaska gave him and his longtime associate Rick Gates $US19 million to invest in a failed Ukrainian TV venture in 2007.
Last year, The Washington Post reported that Manafort emailed Kilimnik, beginning in April 2016, offering to give Deripaska “private briefings” about the Trump campaign. Former intelligence officials told Business Insider that the offer was likely part of Manafort’s effort to resolve his financial dispute with Deripaska.
“I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?” Manafort reportedly wrote to Kilimnik on April 11, 2016.
“Absolutely,” replied Kilimnik. “Every article.”
“How do we use to get whole,” Manafort responded. “Has OVD operation seen?”
Investigators concluded that “OVD” was a reference to Deripaska’s full name: Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska.
Kilimnik reportedly told Manafort in a later email that he had been “sending everything to Victor, who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD.” Victor was a senior aide to Deripaska, according to The Atlantic.
“Frankly, the coverage has been much better than Trump’s,” Kilimnik wrote. “In any case it will hugely enhance your reputation no matter what happens.”
On July 7, 2016, Manafort wrote to Kilimnik, “If he needs private briefings, we can accommodate,” according to The Post.
Deripaska’s representatives confirmed to Vice News that his jet flew to New Jersey in August 2016, but said the trip had nothing to do with Manafort’s offer and said Deripaska never received the offer. A spokesperson for Deripaska added that the only passengers on the flight at the time were the oligarch’s family members, and added that any implication that Deripaska communicated with Manafort during the election “would be a false statement of fact.”
Mueller’s office has charged Manafort with dozens of counts related to tax and bank fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy against the US. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.