Donald Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, once helped a pro-Russia party in Ukraine to secretly route at least $2.2 million to Washington lobbying firms unreported, The Associated Press reports. The news arrives at a volatile time for Trump's campaign, which has already been accused of being in cahoots with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The law requires that lobbyists declare when they receive support from foreign leaders or political parties; doing so is a hassle, though, and the reputations of lobbyists can suffer, particularly if foreign interests are different than those of the United States.
Manafort and top Trump aide Rick Gates reportedly worked as consultants to then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's political party in 2012; in doing so, the pair helped a pro-Yanukovych nonprofit hire lobbying firms Podesta Group Inc., which has Democratic ties, and Mercury LLC, headed by a former Republican congressman. The lobbyists received $2.2 million to advocate for positions favorable to Yanukovych, including "downplaying the necessity of a congressional resolution meant to pressure the Ukrainian leader to release an imprisoned political rival," The Associated Press reports.
Gates said there was no attempt to sneak around reporting Yanukovych's nonprofit, and the heads of Podesta Group and Mercury called the actions lawful and said there was no need to ever disclose anything to the Justice Department. Still, a Podesta employee told the AP: "Gates described the nonprofit's role in an April, 2012 meeting as supplying a source of money that could not be traced to the Ukrainian politicians who were paying him and Manafort."
Separately, on Wednesday it was additionally announced that Manafort is being demoted in the Trump campaign with the hiring of Breitbart News Executive Chairman Stephen Bannon as campaign CEO and elevating adviser Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager.