Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's campaign chairman, made a fortune and revived his political consultant career in Ukraine beginning with a 2005 contract with steel magnate Rinat Akhmetov, The Washington Post details, but Manafort's subsequent work for Ukraine's ruling party and since-ousted Moscow-aligned president, Viktor Yanukovych, might send him to jail, according to newly uncovered documents and emails.
The most serious legal problem for Manafort is that he and his Trump campaign deputy, Rick Gates, did not register as foreign agents for their covert work directly running a lobbying operation in Washington on behalf of Ukraine's government, The Associated Press reports, citing emails it has obtained. The emails show Gates' direct management of a lobbying effort via two lobbying firms, Mercury and the Podesta Group (run by Tony Podesta, brother of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta), and former employees at both firms say Manafort — Gates' boss at DMP International — personally oversaw the campaign and spoke with them on the phone.
Also on Thursday, Ukraine's National Anti-Corruption Bureau posted on Facebook 22 instances where Yanukovych's Party of Regions earmarked $12.7 million in "under the table" payments to Manafort, though there is no proof Manafort ever received that money. "Under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, people who lobby on behalf of foreign political leaders or political parties must provide detailed reports about their actions to the Justice Department," AP says. "A violation is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000."
Politically, AP adds, "Manafort and Gates' activities carry outsized importance, since they have steered Trump's campaign since April. The pair also played a formative role building out Trump's campaign operation after pushing out an early rival." Manafort's relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, a protégé who rose from interpreter to head of Manafort's Ukraine office, is also under scrutiny, given Kilimnik's well-known background with Russia's military intelligence, as detailed by Politico. Kilimnik says he traveled to the U.S. and met with Manafort as recently as this past spring.
Manafort said earlier this week that he had not personally received "any such cash payments" from the Party of Regions (though Manafort's statement "left open the possibility that cash payments had been made to his firm or associates," The New York Times notes), and he and Gates have maintained that they did no work for Ukraine that required registering as foreign agents. Neither had anything to add to those statements on Thursday. You can read more about Manafort's business in Ukraine and ties to its pro-Russian political and business class at AP, The Washington Post, Politico, and The New York Times. Peter Weber