Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, is in the center of a Russia controversy yet again as he was revealed to have been in a meeting with a Russian lawyer that has come under scrutiny.
More details about the meeting came out this week — Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, published emails sent to himself, Manafort, and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner that show a music publicist with connections to Trump and Russia promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The music publicist, Rob Goldstone, suggested the top Trump advisers meet with a Russian lawyer to obtain the supposedly incriminating information about the soon-to-be Democratic presidential nominee. Goldstone also noted that the offer was part of the Russian government’s support for Trump.
There have also been previous reports that Manafort secretly worked to advance Russian interests for years before he joined Trump’s presidential campaign last April.
Manafort’s ties to foreign oligarchs and dictators have raised questions for decades, but his work for the Trump campaign likely has him under FBI investigation.
Raised in politics and business
Manafort was born in 1949 and raised in New Britain, Connecticut, a majority Democratic town where his father served three terms as a popular Republican mayor.
Like Trump, Manafort comes from a real-estate family. Alongside his political work, his father also ran the family construction company, Manafort Brothers Inc., founded by his Italian immigrant father.
Instead of taking over the family business, Manafort decided to pursue his interest in politics and moved to Washington, DC, where he earned both an undergraduate business degree and a law degree at Georgetown University.
A Republican operative and international ‘gun for hire’
While working at a private law firm two years after graduating from law school, Manafort began advising Republican president Gerald Ford’s 1976 campaign. Since the 1970s, he has established deep and sometimes murky connections in Washington and around the world, serving as a political lobbyist, an adviser, and an international political consultant for leaders around the world, including dictators Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines.
Manafort’s international work has long raised eyebrows among Democrats in Washington. In 2004, he became a top adviser to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian strongman whom Manafort is widely credited with helping win the presidency in 2010.
Yanukovych was ousted in 2014 after widespread demonstrations against his decision to back out of a deal with the European Union that would have distanced Ukraine from Russia and fostered closer ties with the West. On February 20, 2014, Ukrainian riot police opened fire on thousands of demonstrators who had gathered in central Kiev. Fifty-three protesters were killed that day, and dozens more over the next few days.
Ukrainian prosecutors have said Yanukovych ordered the security forces’ attack on protesters, and at least one human-rights lawyer representing the victims is investigating what role, if any, Manafort played in encouraging Yanukovych’s crackdown. Yanukovych fled to Russia amid the protests and is now living under the protection of the Kremlin.
Manafort’s Trump connections
In March 2016, Trump hired Manafort to manage the Republican National Convention and wrangle delegates into supporting Trump. Manafort had experience convincing delegates to support Gerald Ford in 1976 — the last time the Republican Party began a convention without having selected its presidential nominee.
In May 2016, Manafort was promoted to the position of campaign chairman and chief strategist. He became the campaign’s de facto manager after Trump fired Corey Lewandowski in late June. Manafort served in this senior role until August 2016, when he resigned over reports about his legally questionable work mixing politics and business in Ukraine.
The New York Times, citing ledgers uncovered by an anticorruption center in Kiev, reported on August 16 that $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments from Yanukovych’s pro-Russia Party of Regions had been earmarked for Manafort for his work with the party from 2007 to 2012.
Why is Manafort under fire now?
On March 22, the Associated Press reported that Manafort was paid $10 million between 2006 and 2009 to lobby on behalf of Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally, using a strategic “model” that would “greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success.”
AP reporter Jeff Horwitz told Fox News that Manafort was “a gun for hire” who was willing to work explicitly “on behalf of Russian interests.”
Manafort’s name had been connected to Deripaska’s before the AP reported on their lucrative contract. The two were involved in a partnership that went south, and wound up with Deripaska accusing Manafort of “disappearing” with nearly $19 million intended for investments. Deripaska filed a lawsuit against Manafort in the Cayman Islands in 2014, and was still trying to get his money back in August 2015, according to documents obtained by Politico.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer denied on March 22 that Trump had been aware that Manafort had lobbied on behalf of Deripaska.
On top of this, Ukrainian member of parliament has accused Manafort of accepting nearly $1 million from Ukraine’s pro-Russia Party of Regions, and then laundering it through a company that claims to sell computers. Ukrainian lawyers also want to question Manafort about what role he played, if any, in the 2014 police killings of protesters in Kiev.
In another bizarre twist, late last month, hackers broke into Manafort’s daughter’s iPhone and published four years’ worth of purported text messages — roughly 300,000 messages — on the dark web.
In a series of texts reviewed by Business Insider that appear to have been sent by Andrea to her sister, Jessica, in March 2015, Andrea said their father had “no moral or legal compass.”
“Don’t fool yourself,” Andrea wrote to her sister, according to the texts. “That money we have is blood money.”
“You know he has killed people in Ukraine? Knowingly,” she continued, according to the reviewed texts. “As a tactic to outrage the world and get focus on Ukraine. Remember when there were all those deaths taking place. A while back. About a year ago. Revolts and what not. Do you know whose strategy that was to cause that, to send those people out and get them slaughtered.”
In another text to her cousin, who was also her father’s business partner, Andrea called Manafort “a sick f—ing tyrant.”
Are Trump and Manafort still aligned?
Manafort and Trump have been connected since the 1980s when Trump hired Manafort’s lobbying firm to help the Trump Organization. Trump became close with Manafort’s business partner at the time, Roger Stone, a self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” who served as an early adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign.
Earlier this month, Stone said he had exchanged private messages on Twitter with a hacker implicated in a massive cyberattack that targeted the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election.
In 2006, Manafort and his wife bought a Trump Tower apartment, which Manafort still owns and resides in when he’s in Manhattan.
Manafort has denied all the allegations against him. In February, Manafort said he had “never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration.”
The White House appears to be creating as much distance between Manafort and the Trump campaign as possible. In March, Spicer told reporters that Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time” in the campaign, despite having spent five months on the campaign and nearly three of those months as the chairman.
Others close to Trump have made opposing claims about Manafort’s influence.
“We couldn’t be more happy with the work that he’s doing, the way he’s tackling these things, the way he’s handling the organization of everything going forward,” Donald Trump Jr. told the AP last July.
In August, former House Speaker and Trump loyalist Newt Gingrich told Fox News host Sean Hannity that “nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to get this campaign to where it is right now.”
Manafort under FBI investigation?
The revelations about Manafort’s work with a Russian oligarch come amid reports that the FBI has evidence to suggest that Trump campaign associates colluded with Russia during the presidential election to undermine Hillary Clinton.
During a hearing before Congress in March, FBI Director James Comey said publicly for the first time that the bureau was conducting a counterintelligence investigation that included an examination of whether Trump associates worked with Russian officials to influence the election.
Comey declined to say whether Manafort was under investigation, but it has been reported that he and Roger Stone are both subjects of FBI scrutiny. Trump’s former national-security adviser and top campaign surrogate, Michael Flynn, is also reportedly under FBI investigation. Flynn was paid $35,000 to speak at a gala celebrating state-sponsored news agency Russia Today in December 2015. A few months earlier, he was paid $11,250 to speak at an event hosted by Russia’s top cybersecurity firm, Kasperky Lab.
In response to the AP’s latest report about Manafort’s dealings with Deripaska, House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Jackie Speier said that the Trump-Russia investigation is no longer a “drip, drip, drip. This is now dam-breaking with water flushing out with all kinds of entanglements.”
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