US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort blamed Ukraine rather than Russia for hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) email servers during the 2016 election campaign, Fox News reported, referring to newly-released documents from ex-Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe.
The documents, which were made public on Saturday after lawsuits filed by BuzzFeed News and CNN, are specifically related to notes from the Mueller team’s interviews with witnesses, including Manafort’s deputy Rick Gates.
“Gates recalled Manafort saying the hack was likely carried out by the Ukrainians, not the Russians”, according to a summary of one interview conducted with Gates.
Even though in July 2018, 12 Russian intelligence officials were indicted by a federal grand jury of hacking the DNC servers in 2016, Gates told investigators that Manafort pointed the finger at Ukraine “as the Trump campaign sought to capitalise on disclosures from the DNC emails and associates discussed how they could get hold of the material themselves”, Fox News reports.
According to Gates, Manafort made the claims about Ukraine after it was reported in June 2016 that Wikileaks had about 20,000 hacked DNC emails.
Gates insisted that Manafort's speculation echoed the position of his business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who alleged that the hack could have been carried out by Russian operatives in Ukraine.
Hacking DNC Servers During the 2016 Election Campaign
According to Mueller, Russian intelligence officers, who were part of Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, or GRU, launched a “concerted attack” on the US “political system,” allegedly using “sophisticated cyber techniques” to hack into computers and networks used by then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The emails retrieved during the hack were then published by WikiLeaks on July 22, 2016, just before the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Trump touched upon the DNC servers in the same phone call with Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in July, in which he asked for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, something that prompted Democrats to kick off an impeachment inquiry in September.
"I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine. They say [cybersecurity technology company] Crowdstrike […]. I guess you have one of your wealthy people […] the server, they say Ukraine has it. […] I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it,” Trump said.
No Collusion Between Trump and Russia
As far as Manafort is concerned, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the Federal District Court in Washington ordered in March that Trump's former campaign head, who had already been sentenced last week to almost four years in prison, serve an additional 3.5 years and pay a $6 million fine for conspiracy, concluding Robert Mueller's highest-profile prosecution.
The conspiracy counts included money-laundering, obstruction of justice, and the failure to disclose lobbying work that allegedly brought Manafort millions of dollars over a decade.
Mueller, for his part, confirmed during his testimony in Congress in July that his team of investigators had failed to find sufficient evidence that could prove allegations of a conspiracy between the Trump team and Russia to rig the 2016 US presidential election.
Moscow has repeatedly denied interfering in the election, saying that the allegations were made up as an excuse for the defeat of Trump's campaign opponent as well as to deflect public attention from actual instances of electoral fraud and corruption.
The claims of collusion have also been repeatedly dismissed by Trump, who slammed the Mueller probe as a "witch hunt".