On Wednesday, the Associated Press broke news that former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort “secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics.”
The AP, citing “interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP,” reports that news of Manafort’s secret work on behalf of Putin “appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.”
Indeed, when he was running the Trump campaign from April until August of last year, Manafort repeatedly denied that that were any links between himself or anyone on the Trump campaign and the Putin regime.
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) March 22, 2017
When Hillary Clinton’s campaign accused Russian hackers of leaking Democratic National Committee emails just before the Democratic National Convention to help Trump — an allegation that has since been affirmed by the US intelligence community — Manafort went on CNN and said any conversation about links between the Putin regime and Trump, including his personal role, was “crazy.”
— WhyNeverTrump (@WhyNeverTrump) July 25, 2016
During a CBS interview from around the same time, Manafort stammered when asked directly whether Trump had financial relationships with Russian oligarchs.
Watch Paul Manafort, chairman of Trump's presidential campaign, sound VERY unconvincing, re: Jeff Sessions and Russia. pic.twitter.com/5sc3FBMa8H
— #AllofUs (@TimeForAllofUs) March 2, 2017
In 2008, however, Donald Trump Jr. told a real estate conference that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets” and “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” That same year, Trump sold a Palm Beach mansion to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovev for $95 million — about $53 million more than he paid for it less than four years earlier, according to the Washington Post. Five years later, Trump made millions for bringing his Miss Universe pageant to Moscow with from another Russian billionaire, Aras Agalarov.
A couple weeks after Trump infamously asked Russian hackers to leak Hillary Clinton’s emails to the press, Manafort left the campaign amid reports Ukrainian authorities were investigating him for allegedly receiving $12.7 million in illegal payments from Ukraine’s former pro-Russia ruling party. That same month, another Trump confidante, Roger Stone, was exchanging direct messages on Twitter with Guccifer 2.0, an account the US intelligence community says was used as a front for hackers directed by the Russian government.
Manafort and Stone have a relationship spanning decades. They were partners in the Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly lobbying firm that existed until 1996.
As news of the alleged illegal payments from the pro-Russian Ukrainian regime circulated last August, Manafort released a statement claiming he “never received a single ‘off-the-books cash payment’ as falsely ‘reported’ by The New York Times, nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia.” But the AP now reports that Manafort pitched his secret pro-Putin strategy “to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006.”
The AP reports that Manafort’s plans “were laid out in documents obtained by the AP that included strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. How much work Manafort performed under the contract was unclear.”
When Corey Lewandowski was ousted as Trump’s campaign manager in June, he told the AP that “Paul Manafort has been in operational control of the campaign since April 7. That’s a fact.” Manafort wasn’t paid for his work on Trump’s behalf, but the latest AP report suggests he might’ve had another lucrative income source thanks to his contract with Deripaska.
On Monday, FBI Director James Comey revealed that connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials are under investigation. That afternoon, Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempted to distance the Trump administration from Manafort, characterizing him as someone “who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.” Spicer’s attempt to downplay Manafort’s role came two weeks after Lewandowski did the same thing on Fox News.
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) March 20, 2017
Now, despite Spicer’s recent statement, the White House says it would be inappropriate to comment on Manafort at all.
But in August, Trump confidante Newt Gingrich told Sean Hannity that “nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to get this campaign to where it is right now.”
WATCH: Newt Gingrich Last August: "Nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to get this campaign to where it is right now." pic.twitter.com/WXIo1IErT0
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) March 22, 2017
Manafort’s influence on Trump extended beyond the campaign. In December, CNN reported that Manafort “reemerged as a player in the fight to shape the new administration” and had “a direct line to top decision-makers” because of his relationship with Mike Pence, who he played a role in selecting as Trump’s running mate.
As recently as January, Manafort denied having relationships with Putin regime. He told the Wall Street Journal that “I have never had any relationship with the Russian [government] or any Russian officials… I was never in contact with anyone, or directed anyone to be in contact with anyone.”
In response to the AP’s report about his secret plan to benefit Putin, Manafort acknowledged that he “worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments,” but added, “My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russia’s political interests.” His comments are directly contradicted by the AP’s reporting, however.
The AP reports that Manafort “continues to speak with Trump by telephone.”