In the Collected Works of Robert Mueller, there are Russian names that come and go. But there’s only one of these figures who provides a recurring presence in this oeuvre. He is a diminutive man, whom Mueller has called an “asset” of Russian intelligence. His presence is either the sort of distracting irrelevance that Alfred Hitchcock described as a MacGuffin, or he is the shadowy character who steps into the frame to foreshadow an ominous return.
Konstantin Kilimnik trained in Russian military intelligence as a linguist; he spent decades by Paul Manafort’s side, serving as a translator and then rising through the ranks of his organization. Eventually, Manafort would come to describe Kilimnik—also known as K.K. or Kostya—as “My Russian Brain.” He would travel with Manafort to Moscow to meet with their client, the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. When Kostya worked with Americans, they suspected him as some sort of spook. (Last June, I wrote this profile of him.)
When Paul Manafort cut a deal with Mueller in September, he promised to come clean. Any student of Manafort knows that coming clean is not a skill that comes naturally to the man. He built a career around his expertise at distorting images of scuzzy public figures; he made a fortune by erecting fantastically complicated financial contraptions that hid his money from governments, so ridiculously intricate that it is a miracle they worked in the first place. These habits of misdirection, this engrained proclivity toward the construction of expedient narratives, can’t be easily shed.