Who is the Russian-linked Manafort associate at the center of Mueller's probe?

The revelation from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE this week that a senior Trump campaign official, Richard Gates, had repeated contact with a business associate suspected of working for Russian intelligence services has so far sparked little outcry from lawmakers.

The individual, identified in media reports as Konstantin Kilimnik, is a mysterious figure who was formerly affiliated with a group chaired by Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMurkowski not worried about a Palin challenge Kavanaugh fight a GOP wake up call, but more is needed MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace: I told Jeb Bush 'he should have punched' Trump 'in the face' MORE (R-Ariz.) and who for years served as a top associate in Ukraine to Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortThree reasons Mueller may not charge Trump with obstruction Judge calls Manafort plea deal 'highly unusual' Calif. man ensnared in Mueller probe sentenced to 6 months in prison MORE, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' JPMorgan CEO withdraws from Saudi conference Trump defends family separations at border MORE's former campaign chairman.

While the tie between Gates and Kilimnik could represent the best link yet between Trump aides and Russia during the campaign, lawmakers in both parties are so far keeping quiet about the relationship until they learn more from the Mueller probe.

A spokesperson for Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel Hillicon Valley: Facebook reveals 30 million users affected by hack | Grassley presses Google to explain data practices | Senators warn Canada against using Chinese telecom firm | FCC responds to net neutrality lawsuits Senators urge Canada against using Huawei in 5G development due to national security concerns MORE (D-Va.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, declined to comment on Kilimnik.

Referring generally to the Mueller probe, Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillGOP Senate candidate: Kavanaugh 'debacle' 'hugely motivating' to Missouri voters Democrats hold fading odds of winning Senate this November Cornyn: 'All the money in the world' won't help O'Rourke win Texas MORE (D), who faces a tough reelection, said at a town hall meeting this week in Kansas City, Mo., that “the investigation needs to be completed and the facts will come out,” a wait-and-see approach echoed by many lawmakers. 


Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFive takeaways from the final Tennessee Senate debate Schumer rips Trump 'Medicare for all' op-ed as 'smears and sabotage' GOP senator suspects Schumer of being behind release of Ford letter MORE (N.Y.) has stayed mum, as well.

Republicans have also held back from commenting, partly because of the uncertainty swirling around Kilimnik’s allegiances and what he offered or did not offer to the Trump campaign.

Kilimnik in the past has denied ties to Russian intelligence and Mueller has yet to formally name him as Gates’s contact, but already reporters are circling him as possibly the clearest link between Trump’s inner circle and the Russian government during the election.

The special counsel released a document Tuesday asserting that Gates had multiple conversations with someone identified as “Person A,” which The New York Times and other media outlets identify as Kilimnik.

Mueller’s team describes this individual as someone who had ties to a Russian intelligence service in 2016 and whom Gates described to a colleague as a former intelligence officer with the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency.

Kilimnik is reportedly a Russian-Ukrainian dual citizen who studied foreign languages at what is now known as the Military University of the Ministry of Defense, graduating in the early 1990s.

A few years after graduating, he started working in the Moscow office for the International Republican Institute (IRI), an American group chaired by McCain that works with pro-democracy advocates around the world.

Kilimnik resigned in 2005 under murky circumstances, according to multiple press reports, with his resignation coming around the time he started working as a translator for Manafort.

Politico reported that a former IRI employee was warned that Kilimnik “could not be trusted” and advised to steer clear of him.

A spokeswoman for IRI told The Atlantic that Kilimnik had violated the organization’s code of ethics but maintained that there was no reason to believe he was tied to the GRU or other Russian intelligence agencies.

Kilimnik became a key contact in Kiev, where Manafort was working for Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest oligarch.

Manafort reportedly parlayed his relationship with Akhmetov into a lucrative contract with former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who became Ukraine’s leader in the summer of 2006 and was allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kilimnik soon became an important contact for Manafort within the former Ukrainian president's administration. He told Radio Free Europe in an interview that he spent 90 percent of his time inside the administration after Yanukovych’s election and that he assisted Manafort during that time.

Yanukovych opposed the pro-Ukrainian independence faction led by Viktor Yushchenko, who knocked him out of power briefly with the help of a U.S.-supported democracy movement. He regained power in 2010, and Kilimnik later said it was due in part to the assistance of Manafort, whom he praised as “very skillful,” according to Radio Free Europe.

Yanukovych’s pro-Russia party designated $12.7 million for Manafort from 2007 to 2012, according to a so-called black ledger that emerged in August 2016.

Richard Hibey, Manafort’s lawyer, denied at the time that his client had received cash payments alleged by Ukraine’s anti-corruption officials, though The Associated Press later confirmed that at least some of the payments listed in the ledger were received by Manafort's consulting firm.

Kilimnik told Radio Free Europe that he continued to be in contact with Manafort during the 2016 election, briefing him on Ukraine and speaking “every couple months.”

Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016. He was brought on to lock down delegate commitments ahead of the Republican nominating convention in Cleveland, before eventually being tapped to oversee the campaign.

He resigned from the campaign in August after news of the black ledger surfaced and other reports scrutinizing his past foreign lobbying work.

Gates, however, who had a career-long association with Manafort, survived his longtime associate’s purge from the campaign, continuing on to work on Trump's transition team.

Manafort and Gates's business relationship goes back years. Gates started working as an intern for Manafort’s consulting firm, Black, Manafort, Stone, Kelly — a firm that included Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel The Hill's Morning Report — Where the Kavanaugh nomination stands The Mueller investigation: Where it stands at the midterms MORE, a longtime Republican operative who also served as an informal adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign — nearly 30 years ago.

Manafort left the firm the same year Gates joined it, according to The New York Times, but Gates later joined Manafort in 2006 at his new firm, Davis Manafort.

The Times reported that Gates became entwined in Manafort’s overseas business dealings.

He traveled to Moscow, for example, to meet with associates of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian business mogul who invested heavily with Manafort in a deal to buy a Ukrainian cable television network.

Gates was also listed on documents related to shell companies that Manafort set up to receive payments from clients in Eastern Europe, according to the Times.

Given Kilimnik’s longtime relationship with Manafort and his continued contact with him during the 2016 campaign, he likely saw Gates as the next best contact with Trump’s inner circle once Manafort resigned.

But whether their reported conversations were about the political situation in Ukraine or about — as some Democrats suspect — how Russian intelligence could help Trump defeat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton on if Bill should’ve resigned over Lewinsky scandal: ‘Absolutely not’ Electoral battle for Hispanics intensifies in Florida Trump adds campaign stops for Senate candidates in Montana, Arizona, Nevada MORE, remains unknown.

Democrats hope Mueller’s probe will get to the bottom of it and are keeping quiet in the meantime.

“I don’t think there’s anything for Democrats to do but stay out of the way,” said Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist.

“If you’re a candidate or elected official, I think the main point you need to hit is that we’re a country of law and the special prosecutor should be left alone to do his job and the rest will take care of itself,” he added. 

Gates pleaded guilty last month to charges of financial fraud and lying to investigators and has agreed to cooperate with Mueller.

Manafort, his co-defendant, has pleaded not guilty to a series of charges in two federal criminal cases stemming from the Mueller probe, with trial dates scheduled in Washington, D.C., and Virginia.