Special counsel Robert Mueller charged Paul Manafort and his Ukrainian lobbying business partner Konstantin Kilimnik with obstruction of justice Friday, adding yet another criminal allegation to a growing stack of charges against the former Trump campaign manager.
Manafort, who helmed the Trump campaign leading up to his historic win, had already been facing up to 100 years in prison on charges of money laundering, tax evasion, bank fraud, and foreign lobbying violations.
The new obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice charges came after investigators earlier this week accused Manafort and Kilimnik of calling and texting two former colleagues in an effort to get them to lie to investigators about Manafort’s lobbying activity.
In February, Mueller had charged Manafort with organizing a lobbying scheme for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine in both Europe and the U.S., which he financed with with offshore funds.
Almost immediately, Manafort and Kilimnik allegedly began reaching out to their former colleagues — 16 messages and five calls in February and April — in an apparent effort to convince them to lie to federal officials about Manafort’s lobbying work. Specifically, they wanted the witnesses to claim that the work was done exclusively in Europe, and not the U.S., the indictment alleges. (Anyone doing political work on behalf of foreign governments in the U.S. is required to register with the Justice Department, something Manafort didn’t do.)
Kilimnik, who was born in Soviet-era Ukraine, served as Manafort’s right-hand man and interpreter in Kiev for a decade, including when Manafort was a top adviser to Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych.
People who know him describe Kilimnik as a smooth operator who speaks good English and Swedish, in addition to Ukrainian and Russian, and say he’s long been well-connected in political and business circles in Ukraine and Russia.
Kiliminik stayed in touch with Manafort, even after his longtime boss was indicted by Mueller in late 2017 for financial crimes related to his years working for the Yanukovych administration — even helping Manafort coordinate the editing of an op-ed about himself in a Kiev newspaper, according to Mueller's filings.
Kilimnik didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment from VICE News.
In the past, Kilimnik has firmly denied any link to Russian intelligence, once telling the Washington Post, in a statement relayed by Manafort’s attorney, that although he did serve as a Russian military translator in the early 1990s, he has “no relation to the Russian or any other intelligence service.”
Cover image: Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for Donald Trump, exits the District Courthouse after a motion hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., on Friday, May 4, 2018. Manafort this week asked a judge to dismiss one of several tax counts against him in a Virginia indictment seeking a dismissal of a count accusing him with failing to file a foreign bank and financial accounts report for 2011. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images