Manafort pushed Ukraine conspiracy theory as far back as 2016

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort blamed Ukrainians for the hack into computers of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign rather than the long-held conclusion of US intelligence that the Russians played a role in the election meddling, newly released documents from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation show.

The documents are notes from interviews the Mueller team conducted with witnesses, including former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, who served alongside Manafort.

“Gates recalled Manafort saying the hack was likely carried out by the Ukrainians, not the Russians,” read a summary of one interview done with Gates. Manafort has extensive ties to Ukrainian politicians and businessmen and is serving prison time for fraud and for illegally lobbying in the US on their behalf, among other crimes.

The newly released documents show how far back some people in the Trump political operation theorized Ukraine’s unsubstantiated role in the Democratic hacking.

Trump has continued pushing this conspiracy theory as he has asked for investigation into Ukraine’s possible role in the 2016 campaign and as he has also called for investigations of Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden.

The newly released documents are part of a group of Mueller interview notes released Saturday to CNN, after CNN and BuzzFeed sued the Justice Department seeking the records from the Mueller investigation.

Previously, Mueller wrote in his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election that Trump’s campaign showed interest in the hacked documents WikiLeaks had in summer and fall 2016. But many of the details are still redacted in the Mueller report, leaving holes in the story that the release to CNN somewhat fills in.

The release includes 274 pages of Mueller team interview notes, emails and other documents related to the cooperation of Gates, former top campaign official Steve Bannon and former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen. Both Cohen and Gates pleaded guilty to criminal charges from Mueller. Bannon was not charged with any crime.

Bannon told the special counsel’s office how Trump took interest in finding the 33,000 missing Hillary Clinton emails that she said she had erased from her private server, according to the documents. Neither Bannon nor Gates said they knew the Russians had stolen the Democratic documents, but believed foreign nationals had done the hacks.

Gates also noted that this theory blaming Ukraine was supported by Konstantin Kilmnik, a long-time associate of Manafort’s and a Russian-Ukrainian dual citizen.

“Kilimnik also opined the hack could have been perpetrated by Russian operatives in Ukraine,” read the summary of Gates’ interview.

Kilmnik was a key person in the report filed by Mueller. He was indicted for allegedly attempting to tamper with potential witnesses against Manafort, and prosecutors have said he has ties to Russian intelligence and lives in Russia. He has denied any links with Russian intelligence as well as any responsibility for Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

Large parts of the interview notes are still redacted by the Justice Department.