Key Mueller witness Rick Gates debunks key Russiagate conspiracy theories: Konstantin Kilimnik is a Russian spy; Paul Manafort served Russian interests; and Roger Stone gave Trump campaign advance notice on Wikileaks’ email releases.
Former Trump 2016 campaign deputy chair Rick Gates was once widely portrayed as the key Mueller witness who would expose Trump-Russia collusion. Gates’ testimony ended up seriously undermining the collusion conspiracy theory, but that has done little to undo the media narrative. Gates joins Pushback to debunk several key Russiagate conspiracy theories: that Konstantin Kilimnik is a Russian spy; that Paul Manafort served Russian interests in Ukraine; and that Roger Stone gave the Trump campaign advance notice on Wikileaks’ release of stolen Democratic Party emails.
Guest: Rick Gates. Former Trump 2016 deputy campaign chairman, cooperating witness in the Mueller investigation, and author of Wicked Game: An Insider’s Story on How Trump Won, Mueller Failed, and America Lost.
AARON MATÉ: Welcome to Pushback. I’m Aaron Maté.
In 2016, Rick Gates served as the Deputy Chair of the Trump campaign for president. But since then, he has played a much different role on the national stage. In October 2017, Rick Gates was indicted as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and from that point forward Rick Gates has played a central role in the nonstop conspiracy theories and innuendo about a possible Trump-Russia plot. Many media outlets speculated that Rick Gates will be the one to deliver the smoking gun of collusion.
Anderson Cooper, CNN: Tonight, for the first time, CNN is learning that a key figure in the investigation, a figure who is a cooperating witness, we should point out, is helping Mueller make the collusion case. Now, I want to underscore those two words. He’s helping. That witness is Rick Gates.
Wolf Blitzer, CNN: What are you learning about Rick Gates and what Mueller wants from him?
Evan Perez, CNN: What he needed Gates help with was the core mission of the Special Counsel, which is the ties between Trump campaign and…alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russians. And Wolf, what this means is that the Special Counsel is looking specifically at making the case of Russian collusion.
Rachel Maddow, MSNBC: What Gates was in a front row seat to see, what he was part of, with a better vantage point than almost anybody else on Earth, was the central question of what was actually going on between the Trump campaign and Russia. And now, he’s Mueller’s star cooperating witness. Ta da!
AARON MATÉ: Well, we all know how it turned out. The Mueller investigation found no conspiracy between Trump and Russia, but that hasn’t stopped the conspiracy theories and innuendo.
Well, now Rick Gates has written a book to help set the record straight. It is called Wicked Game: An Insider’s Story on How Trump Won, Mueller Failed, and America Lost. Rick Gates, welcome to Pushback.
RICK GATES: Aaron, thanks very much for having me. I appreciate it.
AARON MATÉ: So, a lot I want to ask you about. You are cited repeatedly in the Mueller report, as well as in the recent Senate Intelligence Report, and your testimony has been used to advance some core tenants of the innuendo and conspiracy theories about a plot between Trump and Russia.
So, I want to start with the biggest one, which is this claim in the recent Senate Intelligence Report that Konstantin Kilimnik, who you worked with as part of your work for Paul Manafort in Ukraine, that Kilimnik, the Senate says, is a Russian spy. And your testimony has been cited—has been adduced — to make this claim. It was reported that you told someone that you suspected that Kilimnik might be a Russian spy. What do you make of this claim that he is a spy, and did you actually tell anyone that you suspect that he is?
RICK GATES: Yeah, and just to be clear, Aaron, for the record, it was Paul Manafort who had said that somebody had indicated that KK might be working with multiple governments. And so, when I had that information, that’s exactly what I passed on to the Special Counsel. But since that time, I don’t believe that to be the case at all. And there are two important factors that I think we need to kind of focus on.
The first one is that the Mueller report never included State Department cables from the US Embassy in Ukraine back to the State Department, which labeled Mr. Kilimnik as a high-value US asset, providing useful information on a number of topics important to the US government. And I think the fact that they didn’t include that information, clearly would have weakened their case, which is why they purposely let it out.
And I’d say the second piece to this is that in the Senate report, where’s the proof? We still have not seen anything that the Senate has been able to confirm, other than their idle speculation that he is, in fact, a Russian asset. So, I’d ask, where is it? And I think that’s a fair question if we’re gonna start, as you say, throwing around these narratives and false rumors.
AARON MATÉ: Yeah, let me ask you more about Kilimnik’s work in Ukraine, which you witnessed, because it is true. I’ve written about this, how the Mueller report and the Senate report omit a whole lot of countervailing information. They mentioned in passing that he headed up the Moscow office, or was a top official in the Moscow office, of the International Republican Institute, which is a US government-funded organization to pursue US foreign policy objectives abroad. He was there for, I think, close to a decade. And in Ukraine he was, as you say, treated as a valuable resource for the State Department.
Talk about what Kilimnik was actually doing in Ukraine, when, according to the prevailing narrative, he actually was working as some kind of secret Russian spy.
RICK GATES: Yeah, what’s interesting, you would think that somebody like me would have better contacts at the American Embassy than a Ukrainian national. But KK had unbelievable relationships with members of the US government at the US Embassy. So, what he was doing for us in Ukraine was providing a lot of translation services and being a liaison to various members of the Party of Regions political party, when Paul Manafort was running the political campaigns in that country. And that spanned over the course of ten years, and I got to know KK through those ten years. And again, as I actually state in my book, under no instance did I see any activity that would have heightened suspicions. Again, if he’s going over to the US Embassy to do meetings, there is information that I didn’t even know until after the Mueller report had already come out, because a lot of the information was either redacted or still classified, and we were unable to view it. What we know today is so much more than what we knew three years ago. And I think this is just the tip of the iceberg, and there’s going to be more facts and more evidence coming out that is going to create a lot of concern over the way that Mueller ran this investigation.
AARON MATÉ: And I have more questions on that. But sticking with Ukraine for a second, when you were working there with Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, it also does not get very much attention that you were trying very hard to push your client—the president at the time, Yanukovych—into the Western orbit, trying to get him to sign a trade agreement with the European Union, pushing a messaging that would move Ukraine away from Russia’s orbit. Is that a fair characterization?
RICK GATES: It is absolutely a fair characterization, but nobody will ever pick that up. It’s so hard to talk with people, particularly in mainstream media, because they just don’t want that to be the narrative.
So, we’ve tried unsuccessfully for years to categorize the Party of Regions and many of its people as very much an alliance with US government officials and government agencies. And I don’t know what the impetus is for not being able to accept that. I mean, there are countless numbers of Ukrainian government officials under the Party of Regions at the time that were coming over to the United States and having meetings with State Department, Department of Justice, members of Congress.
So, this whole idea that the Yanukovych government was pro-Russian, it’s so unfortunate because actually Viktor Yanukovych and Vladimir Putin did not get along. And where the rub is, Aaron, is that people in 2004 viewed Viktor Yanukovych, who ran unsuccessfully as the president, and then, if you recall, he won, but the election was overturned to his opponent’s favor by the Supreme Court. And that really divided the relationship between Yanukovych and Putin at the time. Then fast forward to 2010: Putin is actually supporting Yanukovych’s opponent in the election—to the extent of giving her campaign cash to the tune of $10 million and forgiving loans that she was involved in with the State of Russia.
So, there’s a lot of facts that I hope that, both with my book, Wicked Game, and other people that will focus on this, will bring attention to it, so people can at least have the facts. They can still make their own conclusions; I’ll give them that. But let’s at least get all the information out there so people can do that.
AARON MATÉ: What’s interesting for me is, I don’t even personally agree with the policy that you were pursuing in Ukraine. I think that Ukraine being on Russia’s borders, there are natural ties between the two countries, a lot of people in Ukraine identify with Russia. Certainly, a lot of people do not and are hostile to Russia, so, it’s a split country. But I always thought it was dangerous to try to sever Ukraine entirely from Russia and bring it into the Western orbit. I always thought that everyone should be allowed to get along, and that it shouldn’t be one or the other.
But it’s interesting to see the way the narrative has been portrayed. That all of a sudden, your efforts in Ukraine, when you’re trying to actually push Ukraine away from Russia, have been portrayed in the media in the exact opposite way, because it fits this convenient narrative that you and Paul Manafort were really doing Putin’s bidding inside of Ukraine.
RICK GATES: Yeah, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. And in fact, I included a chapter in Ukraine separately, just kind of on the ten-year span that we worked there. And I put it in the book because there was so much historical information, and nobody in the United States would ever imagine Ukraine becoming the epicenter of American politics—just how it’s linked Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, the impeachment with President Trump. Ukraine has just become kind of like an inflamed territory that the US has just gotten so intricately involved in.
If there’s one thing I could say, Aaron, this is interesting. Nobody understands how much the United States government, through various administrations, both Republican and Democrat, interfere in other country’s affairs. And the best example in this case is in 2014, when Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea, what happened? Obama did absolutely nothing. The US government did nothing. We threw some sanctions on them. NATO did nothing. It showed the real weakness of both the European coalition and the United States with dealing with this matter of foreign policy. And by the way, that was directly—and I put this in the book—directly, in my opinion, based on the interference of the United States government at that time.
AARON MATÉ: Because they helped overthrow your client, Yanukovych.
RICK GATES: Yes, absolutely. And Ukraine was on track to sign the association agreement; Viktor Yanukovych wanted to sign it. Ukrainian residents overwhelmingly supported an alliance with Europe. So, it was moving in the right direction. Of course, it fell apart in the 11th hour because at the US direction, the IMF pulled part of its funding for Ukraine who was economically strapped. And what people don’t understand—and the fine nuance and detail, and I get it—that over fifty percent of Ukraine’s economy was beholden to Russia through trade. So there had to be some ability for Europe and the United States to help Ukraine through this difficult economic situation while they’re all pushing for Ukraine to become part of the European Union. And so, it was kind of very disingenuous, particularly on the part of the Americans, and specifically Victoria Nuland, who was leading the effort to really have the IMF pull back any type of loan or financial aid that it was going to give to Ukraine in order to get them to the finish line.
AARON MATÉ: It’s interesting, the US couldn’t tolerate any type of association with Russia, but yet they were also asking Ukraine to effectively cut fuel subsidies to people, right? So that people would have to maybe go without heat and power in some areas. Is that a fair characterization?
RICK GATES: Absolute fair characterization. It wasn’t only economic reform. It was judicial reform. It was pension reform. And look, you got to remember in 2010—and Paul Manafort was instrumental in this—he convinced Viktor Yanukovych, who had just been newly inaugurated, to give up the nuclear material that Ukraine had in its possession. And he did that through the Obama nuclear peace summit [Nuclear Security Summit], if you remember, that was held in April of .
Now, that doesn’t sound like somebody that’s trying to store up their nuclear weapons in case the Europeans or the Americans wage an all-out war. This was part of the idea of moving Ukraine to the West. And these were the subtle things that nobody wanted to pick up. Because at the end, yes, Ukraine has problems. Yes, Viktor Yanukovych had problems. But that doesn’t mean that American foreign policy should completely do an about-face and we completely surrender Ukraine to Russia, which is exactly what the US did.
AARON MATÉ: Well, you know, I don’t agree with you on that. I don’t think the US had any business trying to change the government to begin with in overthrowing your client, Yanukovych. And I think that is at the heart of the problems here, as well as having designs about bringing Ukraine into NATO. But we can leave that aside.
What I think is important is that during this period—when the US is engineering the ouster of Yanukovych and, also, meanwhile, you and Paul Manafort are trying to bring Yanukovych into the West—if Konstantin Kilimnik was a Russian spy, that would have been a great opportunity for him to try to sabotage your efforts, to bring Yanukovych closer to Russia. Did you ever see any of that? Did he ever try to stop you or interfere with your campaign to integrate Ukraine with the West?
RICK GATES: Never. In fact, he encouraged it. And one of the things that, again, most people don’t know about, is given the position of Konstantin being the primary translator between Paul and President Yanukovych, he was completely vetted by the Ukrainian, kind of, security services, to make sure that, in their mind, they were comfortable. Because at the end of the day, you have one single individual other than Paul and President Yanukovych in a room, and you don’t know where that information is going to go. And so, it was very important that Konstantin was vetted from the Ukrainian side.
And this is where, again, people don’t understand a lot of the facts and evidence behind it. This clearly wasn’t in the Mueller report. And there’re just so many other instances that just didn’t give an alarm to what you’re raising. And a lot of it had to do with the fact that Paul was advocating for US foreign policy during the time that he was working there. And so, it wasn’t instances where KK was saying, “Hey, wait a minute, Paul. I think that’s the wrong approach. We need to head in this direction.” Absolutely not. I mean, KK was very good at understanding what the American agenda was—clearly better than maybe even Paul, because Konstantin had the relationships at the US Embassy that we never had.
AARON MATÉ: Right, exactly. So, but yet he has been portrayed—and now it’s taken as an established fact in the US media—that he is some sort of Russian spy, despite all the countervailing evidence that we have touched on. And a key element of this theory, that he’s a spy, has to do with the polling data.
So, you have this incident where there’s a meeting between Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik in August 2016 in New York. It’s reported that Manafort gives Konstantin some polling data, and during this time, also, Manafort has been sending Konstantin Kilimnik this polling data as well through encrypted messages. And this gets turned into a grand conspiracy theory that Kilimnik, because he’s a Russian spy, passed on this polling data to the Russian government, who then somehow used this polling data as part of their sophisticated interference campaign in the election, and that’s what got Donald Trump elected.
Alisyn Camerota, CNN: What did you think when you read that disclosure, from Paul Manafort’s own attorneys, that he had passed this proprietary polling data to Russians?
Rep. Adam Schiff: Well, it’s pretty shocking. And you think you’re not capable of being shocked anymore. But, of course, we continue to learn things that take your breath away. So, there’s clear evidence on the issue of collusion, and this adds to that body of evidence.
Sen. Mark Warner: To me, this appears as the closest we’ve seen yet to real live actual collusion. Clearly Manafort was trying to collude with Russian agents. And the question is, what did the President know? What did Donald Trump know about this exchange of information? You know, did the Russians end up using this information in their efforts that took place later in the fall, where they tried using the Internet Research Agency and other bots and other automated tools on social media to suppress, for example, African American vote? Was that something that was driven by this campaign data that was turned over to the Russians? We don’t know those answers. But this raises a whole host of additional questions that we need to get answered.
James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence: This may not be a smoking gun, Wolf, but it sure is a wisp.
Wolf Blitzer, CNN: A wisp of what?
James Clapper: Of collusion. And of course, that’s been the issue here all along. I cannot think of an innocent explanation for why the campaign manager for the Trump campaign would share internal polling data with the Russians. Moreover, in my book, I talk about how the Russians tailored their appeals to various groups, either interest groups or on a geographical basis, to meddle with the election and affect its outcome.
AARON MATÉ: What is the reality with the polling data? What actually happened there?
RICK GATES: Absolutely. And this is kind of one of the fascinating things about the Mueller report. And in my book, I actually say the most interesting parts of the Mueller report are not what’s in the report, but what they actually left out of the report. And it goes into a whole series of areas, the polling data being one. And this is a situation where there was a discussion over many meetings and interviews where I outlined the information to them. And I explained exactly what Paul had requested me to give to Konstantin in way of data. So, if you understand anything about the nuances of data and data analytics, all that was exchanged was—and be ready for this—old top-line data from public polls and some internal polls, but all dated, nothing in real time. And this is part of what Mueller left out of the report, was this information. So, it gave them the ability to cherry-pick and build a narrative that really was not true, because obviously, they had pre-determined the conclusion and then went looking for the evidence. And this is exactly what the majority of the investigation was about.
So, with respect to the polling data, it was very, very high-level, top-line information. So, for example, Virginia: Trump 50, Hillary 48. That was it. And it was, again, dated, older information. It could have been one day; it could have been three days. But if you understand presidential politics, there are new polls every day, often multiple times a day. So, it was really frustrating to kind of read about this.
And you got to keep in mind, as I put in my book, I think this was part of the Special Counsel’s strategy. By having no voice, by not being able to defend against any of this as it was coming out, it established exactly what you were saying: it established a narrative that is not true. But it’s now been so woven into the American public that even if I have documented proof, like State Department cables between the US Embassy and State Department, that people still don’t want to believe it because, honestly, they wanted to believe that there was something there—and ultimately there wasn’t.
AARON MATÉ: And you also told the Mueller team and the Senate as well what you actually believe was the purpose of Paul Manafort sharing this polling data with Kilimnik, but that also got downplayed. What did you tell the Mueller team?
RICK GATES: Absolutely. It was simply that Paul had worked on an election in 2014. He had not been paid all of the money that was owed to him for working on that campaign. This was a way that Paul was using to let people in Ukraine know that he was doing very well in the United States running the election of Donald Trump, and that he was trying to collect the remaining fees that he was owed for the 2014 campaign. And then, absolutely, he was trying to position himself. You know, once the election in the US happened for potential business, which is not unlike any other political operative, Republican or Democrat in politics. They all do it.
AARON MATÉ: Which is why it’s so funny to see that very plausible explanation being completely discarded. It gets a passing reference, I think, in the Mueller report. And the Mueller report ultimately concluded that the Special Counsel’s office could not determine the purpose of why Manafort shared the polling data—even though from their key witness here, you’re giving them a very plausible explanation. What was it like just having the Mueller team downplay or leave out just so much of the critical information here?
RICK GATES: It was really frustrating. And again, since I didn’t have a voice, I couldn’t defend against it. I was kind of under lock and key. There was no ability to change the narrative that was being built across the United States. And I think in the end, the Mueller probe is going to be known as the greatest crime perpetrated by Americans against Americans on American soil.
And the sad thing is, Aaron, is that in this whole process, America has been ripping itself apart from within. Our adversaries have been able to watch from the sidelines as we erode the democratic values of our country on our own. They might have planted the seeds, but we have taken it on. And the idea now that all this evidence is coming out, that this was not just spying on the Trump campaign—you know, looking at certain individuals on the Trump campaign. This is clearly a coordinated effort, as the evidence shows—not conspiracy theories—that the people in government agencies were trying to take down a duly-elected president by the American people. It’s shameful.
AARON MATÉ: You know, on this front, you have a line in your book that was news to me. You say that there was, during the course of discovery in the Mueller investigation, that it was revealed that high-ranking Democrats met with members of the National Security Council in January 2016 and came up with a plan to tie Trump and his orbit to Russia. Recently, we had declassified notes from the CIA saying that they had picked up intelligence that Russia believed that Hillary was trying to concoct a plot to tie Trump to Russia, but that was later on in 2016. Your claim here says this happened in January 2016. Can you tell us more about that? How did you find this out?
RICK GATES: No, no, absolutely. I found it out from somebody on the inside. And I have to say there are people on the inside of both the DOJ, the FBI, that were not happy about the way this investigation was being done. And it’s not just one or two individuals. There’s several individuals. FBI [Special] Agent William Barnett, for example, that categorized from the inside—not anybody from the Trump campaign—but said that there was a “Get Trump” mentality. And there are other pieces of evidence, as we know. The specific piece of evidence I mentioned actually was referring specifically to targeting Paul. And this is interesting, because in January 2016, maybe even earlier, the Democrat Party, Democratic consultants, were trying to dig up anything they could on Paul to link him to kind of any sort of Russian activity. Because the idea was that if they could find an example of a high-ranking Republican operative that was involved in Russian affairs, then it would deflect off of Hillary Clinton.
Now the evidence that you raised about the declassified information finally gives more legs to that claim in the book. And I think over time, as you start declassifying information, as calendars open up and other emails, I think you’re probably going to find even more of a concerted effort that this started much earlier than people thought, just as the FBI investigation into Russia collusion in general was originally thought to begin in 2016. Obviously, we know it started in 2015. So, it started much earlier.
AARON MATÉ: Well, I haven’t pinned down an exact date when it began, but what you’re saying here raises a lot of questions. I know that the FBI looked at Paul Manafort before, for money laundering and tax fraud issues, but never pressed the case, which made it curious that they then brought the case back when the Mueller investigation began. But you’re saying that they were looking at that—Democratic Party officials and members of the Obama administration—you’re alleging that they were looking at Paul Manafort in January 2016, even though, at that point, Manafort hadn’t even joined the Trump campaign yet.
RICK GATES: Correct. And look, as you said, there was an investigation in 2014, into Paul. And, by the way, that investigation was under the auspices of bringing Paul in to help once the Yanukovych government felt. And Paul was, as was I, we volunteered, we cooperated, we gave them every piece of information they asked for, and they found no wrongdoing in 2014. So, it is mysterious, by the way, how all this kind of information starts up just about the time Paul is working for the Trump campaign, even a couple months before.
And one of the interesting pieces that I didn’t realize until Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report came out was that Andrew Weissman was actually investigating Paul, prior to even being remotely assigned to the Special Counsel team. And that begs a lot of questions now, because, obviously, that is not in the Department of Justice guidelines. And I hope more information comes out on that, because I think, again, that shows exactly the mindset.
And that’s the issue here, right? We’re trying to show that with proof and evidence and fact that these individuals were trying to take down a president, and so they used the pyramid structure. They couldn’t get to Paul or Roger Stone or others, so then they go down another layer, and then they go down another layer. And so eventually, they work their way up, because obviously, who they’re really after is the President at this point.
AARON MATÉ: Well, since you bring him up, let’s talk about Andrew Weissman. He prosecuted your case and Paul Manafort’s. He’s recently written a book where he even throws members of the Mueller team under the bus. He says that they were weak, that they did not take things as far as he would have. He criticizes Robert Mueller. And you experienced him firsthand. They brought this case against Paul Manafort and yourself as well, prosecuting Manafort for money laundering and tax issues—and also some FARA [Foreign Agents Registration Act] charges that had really almost seldom, if not ever, been prosecuted before. What was your experience with Andrew Weissman?
RICK GATES: Well, it was not unlike many people that have experienced him in the past. And I’d say that Andrew Weissman was fantastic at weaponizing the law. He absolutely knew the justice system. He knew how to manipulate it. He knew how to use tactics that, while maybe not illegal, were highly unethical or questionable, and he used this throughout his career. This was not just with the Russia investigation.
Look at Arthur Andersen [Arthur Andersen LLP v. United States], look at what the Supreme Court did in overturning that whole verdict nine to zero. But at the time, the company was destroyed, the people were out of jobs, lives hurt, families broken, all because of the types of tactics. And that’s why in the second part of the book, the Mueller investigation is the impetus. Being inside the justice system looking out is much different, particularly when you’re under the thumb of the Special Counsel operation. And I hope no American—Republican, Democrat, or any other political party—ever has to go through anything like that. And I hope from this [that] there are certainly reforms because this was politically motivated. It is, again, not conspiracy theories anymore.
And look, the agencies themselves, they are good, right? I mean, the DOJ is not corrupt, the FBI is not corrupt. However, individuals within those government agencies are. But a few bad apples that we are now identifying and will continue to identify are not the reason to give up faith in these institutions, because that’s really what our adversaries are after. They’re after us destroying it. And I think Andrew Weissman has done an absolute disservice to the justice system overall. And frankly, look, I think his book is an absolute reaction to the belief that he thought there was collusion. So, his book is about writing the conclusion to the Mueller report that Mueller never wrote. And I would love to hear Mueller’s side of it. I doubt that he’ll talk. But hopefully we’ll learn more from it. Because I agree with you. The fact that there was dissension in the Special Counsel goes to show you that the political divisiveness, even in the Special Counsel operation, existed and was prevalent.
AARON MATÉ: Was it your impression that they really needed this Manafort case to try to give the public something, to try to make something of their investigation, given that they knew they had no Trump-Russia conspiracy case?
RICK GATES: So, it’s interesting. I’ve watched Hillary Clinton’s team over the years, and obviously they are consummate DC insiders, swamp creatures like no other. Their strategies have always been to kind of throw up a hundred pieces of paper and see kind of which one lands with an idea. So, I think that they were able to kind of construct this argument that Trump and his associates were involved, including with Russians, and they built that without anybody ever looking at their own connections. How many Russian oligarchs is Hillary taking money from, from one of their foundations or the Clinton Global Initiative? Victor Pinchuk. I mean, how much money has he given to Hillary Clinton’s foundation? There are all sorts of examples that nobody wanted to dig into, frankly, because I think she lost. So, it wasn’t as much of an issue with her side. But that’s not the way we do these investigations in America.
And we need to go back and look at what her activity was, across all levels of this, because, well, she was Secretary of State. And who knows where the 33,000 missing emails are. But you know that at some level, there is something there that would at least be embarrassing if not illegal, and certainly probably crossed the lines of what she should have done. But no focus was ever given on that. The only idea was to draw dots between everybody Trump knew that had anything connected to Russia, but nobody looked at the other side at all.
AARON MATÉ: Another conspiracy theory that you were linked to was this supposition that Roger Stone alerted the Trump campaign of the WikiLeaks email dumps, the dumps of the Democratic Party emails that were stolen. And a lot has been made of the testimony that you gave to the Mueller team about this. Did Roger Stone give the Trump team any heads up about WikiLeaks and its email releases?
RICK GATES: So, as I reported to the Special Counsel, and as I say in my book as well, Roger Stone talked to several people in the campaign; obviously, it’s been documented through various parts of evidence that he absolutely alluded to that WikiLeaks was going to be doing dumps. But here’s the key. And this is exactly what I told the Special Counsel. Roger started saying that in May of 2016, okay? The leaks didn’t come until, I think, late July for the first time, right? And by the way, those weren’t even WikiLeaks; those were the DNC hacks. So, I don’t think the WikiLeaks…if I recall correctly, were actually even later into the election cycle.
AARON MATÉ: Yeah. WikiLeaks was the Democratic National Convention in late July 2016.
RICK GATES: Yeah, okay. Yeah, right before the Democratic Convention. Correct. And so, you still had this period of several months that had gone by. And given Paul’s historical relationship with Roger, Paul never believed that what Roger was saying was accurate. And so, I explained that to the Special Counsel. And of course, again, they kind of cherry-picked the information; they didn’t put the full scope of what I had testified and interviewed with them into the report. And I think it’s doing a disservice, because as we learn the true nature of the facts, I think the American people, by now already know that the investigation was absolutely fraudulent. But I think there’s still going to be more information that comes out that shows a number of other people involved in these tactics. But the WikiLeaks information, at least from my standpoint and Paul’s standpoint, was never believable. If other people on the campaign believed that, I don’t know. You’d have to ask different people at different levels. But at least at the time that it was given—the idea of the information was given to Paul—there was no credibility and just as I outlined in the book.
AARON MATÉ: And if Stone predicted that in May 2016, I’m wondering if it was possible if he was talking about the…which at that point was a well-established public talking point, which was Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails, not the Democratic Party emails that were released by WikiLeaks. Did Roger Stone indicate which kind of emails he was talking about when he told you this in May 2016?
RICK GATES: Yeah, absolutely. It was the 33,000 missing emails, because at that time that was all the campaign knew, right? Nobody knew at that point that the Democratic National Committee or the Republican National Committee had been hacked. And in fact, it raises a great point. When the DNC information was actually released, at that same time the RNC was notified that it had been hacked. Now, the Trump campaign didn’t really have to worry about that, because our alliance and relationship with the RNC wasn’t in lockstep like it usually is with traditional political candidates and nominees. So, we were able to kind of insulate ourselves against that, because it really had nothing to do with us. But the fact that they only released DNC information, again, we have no idea why.
But to your point—and it is a very, very good point to make sure people understand and clarify—when Roger was referring to the information that WikiLeaks had, it was the Hillary Clinton emails, not the information from the DNC. And never at any point do I recall that Roger ever talked about information from the DNC. It was always about WikiLeaks.
AARON MATÉ: Well, and it was always about Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails. I just want to clarify that.
RICK GATES: [Gates nods; reply inaudible].
AARON MATÉ: Okay, that’s important because the Mueller team does not make that distinction. When they say—and the Senate does this, too, the Senate Intelligence Committee—when they say that Roger Stone was talking about emails and they adduce your testimony, they don’t make the distinction between the public talking point of the State Department emails and what was not public, which was the theft of the Democratic Party emails. So that’s one more area where clarifying evidence gets omitted.
RICK GATES: Well, and again, I would go back to, where is the evidence? If they had evidence that Roger knew in advance of the information and that he told people on the Trump campaign and maybe even the candidate himself, where is the evidence? It doesn’t exist. And then that’s really where the Senate report, I thought, did a very, very disingenuous job. Using the words “likely,” “possibly,” “maybe.” That doesn’t exactly give you a comfort or confidence in the type of information that was gathered. Facts are facts. There’s no likelihood or possibility with facts. It either is or it isn’t. And that’s why I thought the Senate report was actually, in some respects, more unfortunate than the Mueller report.
And let me make one important comment on that. I was actually never interviewed for the Senate Intelligence Report. So, they never brought me in and asked me specific questions. All they used was information that they were able to gather, and I’m not sure that they were able to gather everything from the Special Counsel investigation. So, I thought, again, from my standpoint, it was very unfortunate and disingenuous that the Senate would…
AARON MATÉ: Which is interesting, because the Senate Intelligence Report heavily relies on your interviews, on your 302s, the transcripts or the notes on your interviews with the FBI as part of the Special Counsel investigation—but they never interviewed you directly. I didn’t know that. Did you ever talk to them about coming in for an interview?
RICK GATES: So, we received a letter in early June. And at that point, again, I don’t know why, but they never called me in for the interview. As I put in the book, they did interview Paul, but the kicker was, as high level as Paul was at that time, not one single senator sat in a meeting. It was all staff. And they questioned him for a grand total of about 30 minutes at that time, and I outlined this in the book, because, again, these are important facts. And until we get all the facts out, I just don’t think everybody can make an informed decision and conclusion about what happened.
AARON MATÉ: Yeah, they also didn’t interview Konstantin Kilimnik and didn’t try to interview him, even though they accused him of being a Russian spy. Same thing with Mueller. Mueller also never reached out to Kilimnik for an interview. Same thing with Julian Assange, who is at the heart of all this because he released the stolen emails that are at the heart of Russiagate. Mueller never sought an interview with him. And in fact, the FBI intervened to prevent Assange from speaking to the US government after Assange made an offer to that effect in 2017.
So, there is a lot we don’t know. Let me actually ask you, speaking of Assange and the emails, did you ever pick up from anyone on the Trump team who heard the intelligence that was given to blame Russia for the hacking of the DNC? Did you ever hear from anyone who was privy to this intelligence whether or not they thought it was credible? Given how much else in this investigation was specious or based on fraud?
RICK GATES: Yeah, so I had no direct conversations at the time that then-candidate Trump had won the nomination. He was entitled to the security briefings, the daily briefings on national security affairs, and the two people that attended those meetings with him were Mike Flynn and Chris Christie. And, obviously, it’s no secret that Mike Flynn, given his experience in the Obama administration and what he went through as Director of National Intelligence, saw huge gaping holes in the way that intelligence was gathered and processed. And he brought this to the attention of many of us in the campaign because he felt this was a real serious issue that we were going to have to deal with.
And so, I think, to a large extent General Flynn was a big driver of kind of questioning the intelligence reports. Because now, look, as we’ve seen exactly what John Brennan and the declassified notes from a little over a week ago, I mean, this is kind of raw intelligence…our intelligence agencies are doing different things with it. I thought it was fascinating that the information in terms of what Brennan did came after his briefing from Obama, so if it was classified as Russian misinformation, it seems a little bit suspicious that a CIA director would take it to the President of the United States if it didn’t have some value to it.
Again, I can’t speak for these guys in the intelligence community because I’m certainly not a part of it. I’ll be the first to say that. But again, just from a process point of view, why did Brennan take it to the President if there’s nothing important about it? And more importantly, if he turned it over to the FBI—and again, the FBI didn’t do anything with it as we found out—they could have at least recorded it in the Mueller report or given it to Mueller, or maybe Mueller did have it, and we don’t know yet. But the fact that they didn’t put that in there, the fact that they didn’t put the Embassy cables that showed that Konstantin Kilimnik was a US asset, a high-value asset, why were they leaving this information out? The Senate Intelligence Report did the same thing. They had all the classified cables unredacted from the State Department with recognizing that KK was a US asset. Why didn’t they put it in the report?
AARON MATÉ: Yeah, I mean, on the point about this declassified intelligence, about Russian intelligence claiming that they had picked up information that Hillary Clinton was trying to…the Clinton campaign was trying to connect Trump to Russia through some kind of deception. I mean, we know, it’s already established that the Clinton campaign, before that—before that intelligence came in, in late July 2016—that the Clinton campaign hired Fusion GPS which produced the Steele dossier, which did exactly that: claim there was some high-level Trump-Russia conspiracy, and we know now that that was all completely baseless.
But I just want to clarify one thing you said. So, you’re saying that Michael Flynn, after the election—and Michael Flynn, who previously served as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s intelligence arm—did I hear you say that Michael Flynn expressed doubts about the intelligence that was given to the Trump transition team, about whether or not Russia had hacked the DNC and was responsible for releasing the stolen emails to WikiLeaks?
RICK GATES: Sorry. To clarify, so Mike Flynn joined the campaign early on. And in May, when he had come on board in the campaign, one of his criticisms of the intelligence community was the way that information was gathered, analyzed, and then used. I don’t have any knowledge of Michael Flynn making those comments after the election. All of this was in the course of him working with the campaign and kind of him expressing his frustration, particularly with the Obama administration, in the way that they handled this intelligence.
AARON MATÉ: Do you suspect that Michael Flynn might have been targeted for exactly that, because he comes in with this reputation of questioning his intelligence community colleagues? He had released a report that was very critical or contains some damning things about the proxy war in Syria that the US was waging, where the US was supporting forces that were essentially working with al-Qaeda. And there was animosity against Flynn towards that, and an animosity against his calls to reform the intelligence community. Do you think that that played a factor in why he was targeted with the FBI investigation that ultimately brought him down?
RICK GATES: Well, ultimately, I do. And it’s not about my opinion or speculation; it’s about the proof. I mean, when we now look at what General Flynn has gone through, and what we’re seeing both from the Department of Justice through the courts and the FBI, I mean, it’s scary, right? It’s really egregious that an individual would be put through this type of exercise. But this is a great example of what happens when individuals get too much power, and whether it was vengeance or they were targeting Flynn, I can’t say whether that was the case or not. But what I can point you to is the evidence that clearly exists, that there were things done improperly in the investigation of General Flynn. And if nothing else, you have the facts and evidence that clearly support the idea that you just mentioned. And I think it’s important that we continue to dig into it and make sure we have all the facts before everybody can make a conclusion on it.
AARON MATÉ: Finally, what was the impact on you personally? You were treated in the media as being someone who might have been involved in a Russia conspiracy plot. You faced a lot of charges, a very aggressive prosecution from the Mueller team related to Paul Manafort’s case because you worked for him. You had to put up your house as collateral to pay for your bail. What was the impact of all this on you?
RICK GATES: I mean, from a personal standpoint, it was devastating. You never want the full weight of the government, in this case the Special Counsel operation that kind of went unchecked, unaccountable, and was able to leverage the massive resources that they had to basically get each of us to do what they wanted. And, again, they pre-determined the conclusion. And if you look at it, the FBI had shown in August of 2017 that there was no collusion between Trump, the campaign, and any Russian asset. But yet, the Mueller investigation still went on.
And it’s very frustrating to kind of see that, and when, [as] described in the book, kind of going through a crucible and used as a political pawn in this exercise. And one of the first questions they asked me out of the gate, “Did you evidence any Russia collusion?” And I said, “Absolutely not.” And literally, there was very few questions that related to Russia collusion after that, because it was almost like they knew, and the only thing that they were doing is seeing if any of the witnesses answered differently because they might be able to find a new lead or some construct that they could buy into.
And again, when you do something like this, when you target individuals, you don’t understand that you’re targeting not just them, you’re targeting their families, their extended families. Absolutely you’re going after financial resources. I think the way that this was handled—again, I hope we can learn from it. There’s a large part of this [that] made me extremely angry throughout these three years and you have to learn to deal with that anger. And it was my faith, my family and my close friends that really got me through it at a personal level, because nobody deserves to go through this. As I said, I wouldn’t wish this on any American; I don’t care what political party you’re part of. And it just hurt our family so much, particularly the treason part. I mean, that was the most absurd thing I heard, and all I wanted to do was come out and correct the record, and I wasn’t unable to do that until now.
AARON MATÉ: Yeah. And speaking as someone who is not a Trump supporter at all, who hopes he loses in November, and was upset that he won in 2016, I agree that intelligence agencies should not be weaponized to interfere in the political process. It shouldn’t happen to anybody.
A quick follow up. You mentioned a date of August 2017, when the FBI, or the Special Counsel’s Office, determined that there was no collusion. That also was a revelation that I didn’t know about, that I learned in your book. How did you learn about this date, that August 2017 is when they decided that there was no collusion case?
RICK GATES: Yeah, I actually didn’t learn about it until, I think, about a year-and-a-half or two years after that fact. And it was an internal report that the FBI had, or internal discussions that we learned about through the course of being connected with some of the people in the investigation. But again, I learned it much later. So, it was kind of past information. And just to be clear, it was the FBI; it wasn’t the Special Counsel that had determined that. They were looking at something else completely different at the time, but it was the FBI that had really done that investigation. Because remember, you think about it, they started their investigation around 2015. So that’s why it really kind of hit home.
AARON MATÉ: You’re saying they started their investigation of Trump in 2015?
RICK GATES: Yeah, the FBI started the investigation of Russia collusion in 2015. I think late 2015 was the day that we tracked it to.
AARON MATÉ: So, you’re obviously basing this on sources that you claim to have inside the FBI, right? People who have been talking to you. I take it that that’s what your source is here, people who are on the inside. And you’re saying that they told you that actually scrutiny of Trump and Russia from the FBI began in late 2015?
RICK GATES: Well, this has been reported. I mean, this is not…
AARON MATÉ: Okay, so this is not your sources. Okay.
RICK GATES: Absolutely. Yeah, there are records of where Peter Strzok, specifically, was looking at the Trump campaign. And I think it was [as] late as maybe November, December of 2015. Which, I mean, obviously kind of carries over into all the other information we have from early 2016, including Paul and others.
AARON MATÉ: Right. So, but from your discussions with people on the inside, is there anything else you can share with this, that is, that people should know about in terms of the conduct of intelligence officials or something that was awry with this investigation?
RICK GATES: Well, again, I think what you’re seeing now is the complete…hopefully the complete release and disclosure of information that shows what happened along each step of the way. Because look, through this process, I am a big believer in facts and evidence. So, I don’t want to subscribe to conspiracy theories. I want to make sure that we have the facts to back things up. But as more of this information comes out, it’s unredacted. The President did a brave thing in allowing this information to be declassified. I think that’s going to give Americans a deep dive into what is happening with our intelligence community.
And more importantly, that, yes, it can be weaponized. And this is not how America is supposed to work. This is not democracy. And I think this is a great example of the fact of having President Trump in office, [it] has exposed all this. There’s no secret that if Hillary Clinton won, the thinking is that this all would have been swept under the carpet; nobody would have ever found out these details. So, it’s very important, I think, to the American people, and part of the title of my book Wicked Game goes into this idea that the whole process is wicked, and we need to learn from it and fix it, if we’re going to be a stronger country moving forward.
AARON MATÉ: The book is called Wicked Game: An Insider’s Story on How Trump Won, Mueller Failed, and America Lost. Rick Gates, thanks very much.
RICK GATES: Thanks so much, Aaron. I really appreciate being with you.