“On the night of July 28, 2016, as Hillary Clinton was accepting the Democratic presidential nomination in Philadelphia, Donald J. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, received an urgent email from Moscow. The sender was a friend and business associate named Konstantin Kilimnik. A Russian citizen born in Soviet Ukraine, Kilimnik ran the Kyiv office of Manafort’s international consulting firm, known for bringing cutting-edge American campaign techniques to clients seeking to have their way with fragile democracies around the world.
Kilimnik didn’t say much, only that he needed to talk, in person, as soon as possible. Exactly what he wanted to talk about was apparently too sensitive even for the tradecraft the men so fastidiously deployed — encrypted apps, the drafts folder of a shared email account and, when necessary, dedicated “bat phones.” But he had made coded reference — “caviar” — to an important former client, the deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who had fled to Russia in 2014 after presiding over the massacre of scores of pro-democracy protesters. Manafort responded within minutes, and the plan was set for five days later.
Kilimnik cleared customs at Kennedy Airport at 7:43 p.m., only 77 minutes before the scheduled rendezvous at the Grand Havana Room, a Trump-world hangout atop 666 Fifth Avenue, the Manhattan office tower owned by the family of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Shortly after the appointed hour, Kilimnik walked onto a perfectly put-up stage set for a caricature drama of furtive figures hatching covert schemes with questionable intent — a dark-lit cigar bar with mahogany-paneled walls and floor-to-ceiling windows columned in thick velvet drapes, its leather club chairs typically filled by large men with open collars sipping Scotch and drawing on parejos and figurados. Men, that is, like Paul Manafort, with his dyed-black pompadour and penchant for pinstripes. There, with the skyline shimmering though the cigar-smoke haze, Kilimnik shared a secret plan whose significance would only become clear six years later, as Vladimir V. Putin’s invading Russian Army pushed into Ukraine.”