A top campaign official for U.S. President Donald Trump had repeated communications during the final weeks of the 2016 presidential race with a business associate the FBI believes had ties to Russian intelligence, a court filing says.
The connection between Rick Gates, a former deputy chairman of the Trump campaign, and the associate was revealed in a court document filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office late on March 27 and cited in media reports on March 28.
The document identifies the associate only as "Person A" and says he was working for the campaign at the time.
The New York Times, citing a "person with knowledge of the matter," identified "Person A" as Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort both during the campaign and when he worked as a consultant to the government of Viktor Yanukovych, the Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president who was ousted and fled to Russia in 2014.
The court document says Gates had frequent phone calls in September and October 2016 -- weeks before the November election -- with the associate, who the document says the FBI believes had active links to Russian spy services at the time.
Manafort has denied that Kilimnik had ties to Russian intelligence. But the court document says Gates told an associate that "Person A" was "a former Russian intelligence officer with the GRU," the Russian military intelligence agency.
Mueller has charged both Gates and Manafort with alleged crimes unrelated to their connections with "Person A."
Gates pleaded guilty last month to lying to the FBI and conspiring to defraud the United States, and he is now cooperating with Mueller's investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Gates' alleged communications with the business associate were revealed in a sentencing document for former Skadden Arps attorney Alex van der Zwaan filed late on March 27.
Van der Zwaan pleaded guilty earlier this year to lying to the FBI about his interactions with Gates and the business associate. He is due to be sentenced on April 3.
In the document, prosecutors said Gates and van der Zwaan were in touch with "Person A" just before the election and that van der Zwaan acknowledged that he knew about the man's suspected intelligence ties because Gates had told him about them.
FBI agents "assess that Person A has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016," the document says. "During his first interview with the Special Counsel's Office, van der Zwaan admitted that he knew of that connection, stating that Gates told him Person A was a former Russian intelligence officer with the GRU."
Kilimnik, whose whereabouts is currently unknown, has denied having ties to Russian intelligence and Manafort has said he knew of no such connection.
The Washington Post, Associated Press, and other media reported last year that Kilimnik acted as an intermediary during the campaign between Manafort and Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, who is seen as an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Media reported that Manafort offered to provide Deripaska with "private briefings" about the progress of Trump's campaign in an e-mail to Kilimnik in the midst of the campaign in July 2016.
Deripaska has since filed a civil lawsuit in New York state court against Gates and Manafort that accuses them of defrauding him out of an investment deal.
The lawsuit claims that Kilimnik graduated from the Military Institute of the Defense Ministry in Moscow.
The New York Times reported that Kilimnik, who maintains residences in both Moscow and Kyiv, was born in Ukraine when it was still part of the Soviet Union, and he served in the Russian Army as a linguist.
It said an investigation by Ukrainian prosecutors into Kilimnik’s possible links to Russian spy agencies was closed late last year without charges.
Manafort has pleaded not guilty to charges in two indictments, some of which relate to his work for Yanukovych, who was ousted by street protests and fled to Russia in 2014.
The New York Times reported on March 28 that one of Trump's attorneys in 2017 floated the possibility of pardoning Manafort and another top aide indicted by Mueller, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, in discussions with their lawyers.
The Trump attorney, John Dowd, who recently resigned from Trump's legal team, denied any discussions about pardons.