- Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, pleaded not guilty Monday to an indictment on 12 counts as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
- Manafort has long been under suspicion for his vast web of connections to Russian oligarchs and Kremlin-linked entities, which date back decades.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation kicked into high gear on Monday when Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign, surrendered to federal agents, along with his associate, Rick Gates.
Manafort has long been a point of focus in Mueller’s probe, which is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, as well as whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.
Manafort was indicted on 12 counts: conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money; unregistered agent of a foreign principal; false and misleading Foreign Agents Registration Act statements; false statements; and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.
Manafort, who was once described as an international “gun for hire” when it came to advancing the Kremlin’s interests, has drawn significant scrutiny over his ties to Russia, which stretch back over a decade.
Ukraine and the Party of Regions
When Trump first hired Manafort in March 2016, Manafort was known for having worked as a top consultant to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, and is widely credited with helping him win the election in 2010.
Yanukovych, a strongman and a prominent figure in Ukraine’s pro-Russia Party of Regions, was ousted from the presidency in 2014 amid widespread protests against his Russia-friendly positions and his decision to back out of a deal that would have promoted closer ties between Ukraine and the West, and distanced it from Russia.
Yanukovych fled to Russia as the demonstrations escalated and grew bloody, and he is now living under the protection of the Kremlin. Since then, Ukrainian prosecutors investigating the protests have said that Yanukovych ordered security forces to open fire on protesters, and some are looking into whether Manafort had a hand in encouraging Yanukovych.
Manafort also had his share of financial entanglement with entities related to Russia when he joined the Trump campaign.
In July, The New York Times reported financial records Manafort filed in Cyprus that showed he was $US17 million in debt to pro-Russian interests when he joined the campaign. Shell companies connected to Manafort during his time working for Ukraine’s pro-Russian Party of Regions bought the debt, according to The Times.
As part of his investigation, Mueller also subpoenaed Mercury Public Affairs, a lobbying firm that Manafort was associated with, in late August.
Mueller’s team reportedly asked Mercury about public relations work it had conducted for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine at Manafort’s request.
The organisation’s stated goal is to foster closer ties between Ukraine and the European Union, as well as the United States. It was founded, however, by Leonid Kozhara, a senior member of parliament for the Party of Regions.
Mercury worked with Podesta Group — the lobbying firm led by John Podesta’s brother, Anthony Podesta, who is also a subject of Mueller’s investigation — on the Ukraine lobbying project, and the firms did not register as foreign agents at the time, saying they were working for a nonprofit and not a foreign government or political party, The Post reported.
Both firms recently registered retroactively, however, acknowledging that the Party of Regions benefited from their work.
‘Has OVD operation seen?’
Manafort is also associated with Oleg Deripaska, a wealthy Russian oligarch with known ties to the Kremlin. Deripaska’s representatives claimed, in legal complaints filed in the Cayman Islands in 2014, that Manafort had disappeared after Deripaska gave him $US19 million to invest in a failed Ukrainian TV venture.
Earlier this month, The Atlantic published several emails that appeared to show Manafort using his elevated role in the Trump campaign to resolve the dispute with Deripaska.
Manafort reportedly wrote an email to his associate, Russian-Ukrainian operative Konstantin Kilimnik, offering to give Deripaska “private briefings” about the campaign.
“I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?” Manafort reportedly wrote to Kilimnik, who has suspected ties to Russian intelligence.
“Absolutely,” replied Kilimnik. “Every article.”
“How do we use to get whole,” Manafort responded. “Has OVD operation seen?”
Former intelligence officials told Business Insider that Manafort was likely trying to repay his debt to Deripaska. Investigators have concluded that “OVD” was a reference to his full name: Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska.
Kilimnik reportedly told Manafort in a later email that he had been “sending everything to Victor, who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD.” Victor was a senior aide to Deripaska, according to The Atlantic.
Deripaska and Manafort worked together in 2006 as well, when Deripaska signed a $US10 million annual contract with Manafort for a lobbying project in the US that Manafort said would “greatly benefit the Putin Government.”
The Trump Tower meeting
While he was the Trump campaign chairman, Manafort was also one of three top campaign members who attended a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer and lobbyist; Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian lobbyist and former Soviet military intelligence officer; and Irakly “Ike” Kaveladze, a senior executive at Crocus Group, the real-estate firm owned by Russian developer Aras Agalarov.
Aras and his son, Emin, had requested the meeting through Emin’s publicist, Rob Goldstone, who said the meeting was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
In addition to Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner also attended from the campaign’s side. Goldstone was at the meeting too, as was Anatoli Samachornov, a Russian translator.
Goldstone initially pitched the meeting to Trump Jr. offering damaging information on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. replied, “I love it,” and copied Manafort and Kushner on the email thread.
The meeting is the subject of intense scrutiny from congressional intelligence committees and the FBI. Among other things, congressional investigators are said to be looking into whether the Trump campaign or the Republican National Committee received donations from Russian sources after the meeting occurred.
The question arose after Manafort submitted notes he took during the meeting to the Senate Intelligence Committee in late July. The notes apparently made references to political donations and the RNC, and have “elevated the significance” of the meeting for congressional investigators, NBC reported in August.
A red-hot focus for Mueller
When Manafort first joined the Trump campaign in March 2016, he was brought on to manage delegate operations. He was promoted to campaign chairman and chief strategist two months later.
Manafort resigned from the campaign in August, three days after The New York Times reported that the Party of Regions had earmarked $US12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments for his work consulting for the party between 2007 and 2012.
Because of his extensive ties to Russia, Manafort has been a subject of red-hot focus from Mueller’s team.
In addition to working with the US attorney’s office in Manhattan, Mueller is collaborating with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to probe Manafort’s finances.
Investigators have also been homing in on Manafort’s activities outside of his business dealings. Last month, it emerged that US investigators obtained a FISA warrant to wiretap Manafort before and after the election.
The FBI also conducted a predawn raid on Manafort’s home in late July, using a “no-knock” warrant. Agents working with Mueller left Manafort’s home “with various records.” The New York Times reported in September that following the raid, investigators working with Mueller told Manafort he was going to be charged with a crime.
On October 27, Manafort was indicted, and on October 30, he pleaded not guilty to the 12 counts against him.
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