The Associated Press reports Manafort proposed to aluminum magnate and close Putin ally Oleg Deripaska a plan to “greatly benefit the Putin government.” The proposal came amid deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow during the George W. Bush administration.
“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in a 2005 memo to Deripaska. Manafort said he “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”
Manafort and Deripaska continued their business relationship until at least 2009, according to the AP, whose report comes days after FBI Director James Comey confirmed his agency is investigating the possibility of collusion between members of Trump’s campaign and Russian officials in the 2016 presidential race. Last December, the FBI, CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the Putin regime directed a cyber warfare effort to first damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and eventually to help Trump win.
The White House moved to distance itself from Manafort in the wake of the AP report. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said the president had not been aware of his former campaign manager’s work for Deripaska. “Paul was hired as I said to count delegates. That’s why he was brought in,” Spicer said. “To be clear, he got the job done on the delegates.”
“I don’t know what he got paid to do,” Spicer said of Manafort. “There’s no suggestion he did anything improper.”
Manafort told the AP that he “worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments.” However, Manafort said his work was being mischaracterized as “inappropriate or nefarious” as part of a “smear campaign.”
“My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russian political interests,” he insisted.
Last August, the New York Times revealed the existence of secret hand-written ledgers showing $12.7 million in undisclosed illegal cash payments designated for Manafort from the pro-Putin ruling party of then-Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. The payments occurred between 2007 and 2012, according to Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau.
In 2005, Manafort told Deripaska he was lobbying on behalf of his pro-Moscow Ukrainian clients “at the highest levels of the U.S. government — the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department.” He also said he had hired a “leading international law firm with close ties to President Bush to support our client’s interests,” without naming the firm. Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, lobbyists working for foreign political leaders or parties must provide detailed reports of their activities to the Justice Department. Willful failure to do so is a felony punishable by as many as five years in prison and as much as a $250,000 fine. Manafort did not disclose his lobbying during the years he was under contract with Deripaska.
“I don’t know if he violated the Foreign Agent Registration Act,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said of Manafort, according to the AP. “But it’s something I think we all need to know more about.”
“Clearly, if he’s getting millions of dollars from a billionaire close to Putin, to basically undermine democratic movements, that’s something I’d want to know about,” Graham said. “I doubt if Trump knew about it.”
Manafort and Deripaska eventually fell out over a soured business deal. The billionaire gave the American nearly $19 million to invest in Black Sea Cable, a Ukrainian cable television company. Deripaska accuses Manafort of fraud, claiming he took the money and then stopped responding to inquiries about how the money was being spent.
After the $12.7 million payment from Yanukovich’s party was revealed last August, Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign. However, serious questions had already been raised about Moscow’s influence in the campaign after Trump said he would consider recognizing Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and after the Trump campaign successfully lobbied to weaken language in the Republican party platform calling on the U.S. to provide weapons to Ukraine to help its armed forces defeat a pro-Moscow revolt and defend against Russian aggression.
There have been increasing revelations of ties between former and current members of Trump’s team and Russia. Former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page quit the campaign after it was revealed U.S. intelligence agencies were investigating his ties to senior Russian officials, including former Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and Deputy Chief for Internal Policy Igor Diveykin, the latter who is believed to head Russian intelligence gathering about the American presidential election.
Last week, congressional investigators released a letter revealing disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn — who resigned last month after it was discovered he lied about previous contacts with Russian officials — was paid more than $65,000 in 2015 by companies linked to Russia. Among these were an airline implicated in a bribery scandal, a U.S. cybersecurity company tied to Russian intelligence agencies and Russian state broadcaster RT.