Paul Manafort, the political strategist who chaired Donald Trump’s campaign during the crucial five months when Russian influence seems to have been most pronounced, “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,” according to the Associated Press.
Based on “strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars,” the AP report contradicts Manafort’s public statements that he has never worked on behalf of the Russian government.
Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.
[…] In strategy memos, Manafort proposed that Deripaska and Putin would benefit from lobbying Western governments, especially the U.S., to allow oligarchs to keep possession of formerly state-owned assets in Ukraine. He proposed building “long term relationships” with Western journalists and a variety of measures to improve recruitment, communications and financial planning by pro-Russian parties in the region.
Manafort proposed extending his existing work in eastern Europe to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Georgia, where he pledged to bolster the legitimacy of governments friendly to Putin and undercut anti-Russian figures through political campaigns, nonprofit front groups and media operations.
In short, Manafort is one of Vladimir Putin’s original gangstas — a key figure in the Russian strongman’s long campaign to establish an all-powerful oligarchy and restore his country’s imperial influence. We can now draw a straight line from Manafort’s $10 million contract in 2006 to Russian interference in the US presidential election a decade later.
Manafort assumed his role with the Trump campaign in March, right as the candidate began calling America’s NATO alliance “obsolete.” He oversaw the rest of the primary season, Trump’s delegate count effort, and the nominating convention where Trump moved to block a Republican Party platform plank regarding lethal aid to Ukraine.
Rival campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who lacked Manafort’s delegate skills, was sidelined from the beginning of his tenure and resigned before the convention.
Trump only asked Manafort to resign because the AP reported in August that he had “orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation until 2014 on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling pro-Russian political party,” making him politically toxic.
Trump has been trying to minimize Paul Manafort’s involvement with the campaign ever since — though it hasn’t stopped Manafort from advising him. Manafort resumed discussions with Trump soon after his Electoral College victory in November and has told reporters that he still speaks to the president.
Yet in a press briefing Monday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer stretched credulity past the breaking point when he claimed that Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.” He was reacting to a Ukrainian lawmaker’s accusation that Manafort laundered payments from the political party of Viktor Yanukovich, the pro-Russian president of that country who was deposed in 2014.
Responding to the AP story this morning, Spicer told NBC correspondent Peter Alexander that it would be “inappropriate to comment on a person who is not a White House employee.” At this rate, by Friday he’ll deny that Donald Trump even knows who Paul Manafort is.
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