This week, Sean Spicer brazenly attempted to diminish ties between Donald Trump and Paul Manafort, his former presidential campaign manager. In doing so, Spicer falsely claimed that Manafort’s time and role with the campaign were both “very limited” (even though he was campaign chairman from March through August 2016). Since Spicey’s dance, we’re learning much about why the White House wants to erase recent history. Fresh allegations of money laundering in Ukraine surfaced in relation to the secret ledger of funds that prompted Manafort’s campaign resignation. And the Associated Press now reports that Manafort worked for a Russian billionaire a decade ago, all to benefit Vladimir Putin.
As the FBI continues to investigate alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, this AP report does a lot of legwork, if true. Back in 2006, Manafort reportedly signed a $10 million annual contract with the billionaire to “advance the interests” of Putin, which included conceiving a plan to influence U.S. news and politics coverage. The plan also aimed to quell anti-Russian global sentiments, especially among former Soviet republics:
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.
“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 the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”
Deripaska is widely considered to be one of the most powerful oligarchs in Russia, and he often travels with Putin on foreign trips. The AP dug into wire transfers and other documents to support this report, and although Deripaska did not respond to inquiries, Manafort has responded with a statement. He acknowledged working for Deripaska but says that his employment is being inaccurately portrayed as “inappropriate or nefarious” and a “smear campaign.” He insists that this work was not political in nature but only related to “business and personal matters.”
At this point, Manafort’s finances — even in a broad-stroke sense — are mind boggling, especially in regard to recent developments. He reportedly made at least $10 million a year while working with Deripaska, and the secret Ukraine ledger adds another $12.7 million to his wallet. Yet this year, Manafort has taken out $19 million in home-equity loans on three New York City properties, including the residence that he’s maintained in Trump Tower since 2006. Plus, there’s those new and purported hacked text messages — between Manafort’s daughters, who refer to “blood money” — floating around in the ether.
No wonder the White House is trying to shift the narrative on Manafort. This ain’t over yet!
Also, Manafort’s previous response to a question about “Russian oligarchs” is worth a retrospective whirl…
— Yashar (@yashar) March 22, 2017