Trump and Russia
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort earned tens of millions of dollars from 2006 to 2009 secretly working for a billionaire Russian aluminum magnate close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, to promote Putin's interests and undermine anti-Kremlin opposition in former Soviet republics, The Associated Press reported early Wednesday, citing business records and interviews with people familiar with Manafort's dealings. "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 to Oleg Deripaska in 2005, before signing a $10 million annual contract starting in 2006.
Manafort has said he never worked for Russian interests, and he repeated that assertion to AP, saying his work for Deripaska is being mischaracterized as "inappropriate or nefarious" as part of a "smear campaign."
AP says it isn't clear how much work Manafort performed under his contract with Deripaska, or how long past 2009 the business relationship lasted — though it was apparently over by 2014, when Deripaska's representatives alleged in a Cayman Islands bankruptcy court that Manafort had taken $19 million to invest on the Russian oligarch's behalf then stopped responding to his calls. Manafort conducted his contract business with Deripaska not through his consulting firm but instead a company called LOAV Ltd., and he apparently did not detail his lobbying work with the Justice Department, a potential felony violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. When asked about Manafort in 2008, three years into his business relationship with Deripaska, a spokesman for the Russian tycoon said Deripaska had never hired his firm.
Manafort is a "leading focus of the U.S. intelligence investigation of Trump's associates and Russia," AP says, citing a U.S. official. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to distance President Trump from Manafort, saying Manafort "played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time" in the campaign. Manafort, who ran Trump's campaign from March into August, has said this year he still speaks with Trump on the phone. You can read more at AP.