The Cable

Here’s The Newest Batch of Russia Scandals Embroiling Trump’s Ex-Campaign Chair

But wait, there’s more!

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New revelations reported Wednesday further intensify the spotlight on Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chair and a longtime friend, who allegedly worked for years to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine and elsewhere.

An Associated Press report says Manafort forged closer ties to the Kremlin and the formerly pro-Russian government in Ukraine than he had previously disclosed, casting another cloud over the White House just two days after the FBI confirmed it is investigating the campaign for possible coordination with Russia.

According to AP, Manafort signed a $10 million-per-year contract with Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, to advance Russian interests and undermine anti-Russia opposition movements in former Soviet countries. Manafort and Deripaska, a billionaire aluminum magnate, kept a business relationship through at least 2009, the AP reported.

That report follows allegations reported by New York Times Monday that Manafort tried to mask hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments from Ukraine’s former ruling pro-Russia party. Sergii Leshchenko, a Ukrainian member of parliament released a six-page document that he says is a 2009 invoice of $750,000 for “computer parts” bearing what appears to be Manafort’s signature. Manafort worked as a political consultant for former pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich in 2009.

The revelations, if true, would belie repeated claims by Manafort and the Trump administration that he had no ties to the Russian or former pro-Russia Ukrainian government. The disclosure comes hot on the heels of a House Intelligence Committee hearing Monday in which FBI Director James Comey said the bureau began investigating possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia in July, 2016.

Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, denied the allegations about the invoice as “baseless.” Manafort previously claimed Leshchenko tried to blackmail him with compromising information. Leshchenko reportedly tried to contact him, including through his daughter’s hacked iPhone, with “bulletproof” evidence of Manafort’s financial ties with Yanukovych and a 2012 meeting between Trump and Serhiy Tulub, a Yanukovych ally. Leshchenko denied the allegations as “obviously fake.”

In August, 2016, Ukrainian authorities opened an investigation on Manafort over his secret business dealings with the country’s former pro-Russia ruling party. Manafort reportedly received $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments from Yanukovich’s political party between 2007 and 2012, according to ledgers the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau obtained. Though Manafort vehemently denied receiving cash payments from the governments of Ukraine or Russia, Manafort left the campaign shortly after the news broke, though he continues to be in contact with the president.

Manafort was an early architect of Trump’s presidential campaign, and helped the insurgent presidential candidate outmaneuver the “Never Trump” movement during the Republican presidential primaries.

The Trump administration denied Trump knew of all of Manafort’s business dealings in Ukraine and Russia and downplayed his role in the campaign. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Spicer said Manafort played “a very limited role for a very limited amount of time” in Trump’s campaign, though White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon led the Trump campaign for 83 days, compared to Manafort’s 144 days. Other former campaign officials, including top fundraising strategists, challenged Spicer’s claims.

Spicer tried to clarify his remarks at a White House press briefing Wednesday, but appeared to sow more confusion. When asked if Trump would have hired Manafort if the president knew of his Kremlin ties, Spicer said: “I don’t know.”

When asked if Manafort altered Trump’s foreign policy platform to favor Russia, Spicer said: “Not that I’m aware of…There’s nothing that suggested that was the case.”

Manafort, a Republican lobbyist and political consultant with decades of experience, built a powerful lobbying practice that represented controversial world leaders including Mobutu Sese Seko, former dictator of the Democratic Republic of Congo infamous for crushing dissent with a brutal secret police force; former Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose regime was widely criticized for widespread corruption and brutality; and former Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.

Manafort reportedly doesn’t maintain ties with Deripaska anymore. The two had a falling out after Deripaska reportedly gave Manafort $19 million to build a Ukrainian cable company, but seems not to have done so. The dispute came to light after the two duked it out in a bankruptcy court in the Cayman Islands. AP reported Deripaska’s representatives stopped discussing the case after Trump became the Republican presidential nominee.

Update, 2:48 p.m.: This article was updated to include remarks from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s press briefing.

Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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