- Paul Manafort is working with allies linked to Iraqi Kurdish leaders who are pushing a controversial referendum effort opposed by the US.
- Manafort has a long history of work on behalf of foreign agencies, including the pro-Russia Party of Regions in Ukraine.
- His recent work in Iraq could be an effort to bolster his finances as the Russia investigation in the US heats up around him.
Paul Manafort is working with associates of Iraqi Kurdish leaders to boost a referendum effort there, The New York Times reported on Wednesday night. The initiative could usher in Kurdish independence from Iraq, a move that is being frowned upon by the US.
According to The Times, Manafort’s work for the Kurdish group may have begun this summer. The referendum is set for Monday.
The development comes as Manafort faces increasing scrutiny in a wide-ranging US investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives in the 2016 election. Manafort is firmly at the center of federal probe being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller on behalf of the US Justice Department.
Developments in Mueller’s case revealed most recently have found that Manafort:
- Offered “private briefings” to a Putin ally about the Trump campaign, according to multiple reports.
- Became the subject of a FISA warrant that allowed the federal government to spy on him, beginning as early as 2014.
- Was being investigated for possible financial crimes related to his work as a foreign agent.
- Had his Alexandria, Virginia, home raided by FBI agents in July.
- And was warned by Mueller that he would be indicted.
The increased focus on Manafort suggests that Mueller may be trying to flip him in order to gather inside information on people close to President Donald Trump and perhaps Trump himself, legal experts have said.
People close to Manafort have suggested that his involvement in the Kurdish referendum could be related to the mounting financial pressure of paying for his legal defence in the Russia probe. It was not immediately clear how much Manafort was being paid for his work. Justice Department records show the Kurdistan Regional Government has paid $US1.5 million to Washington lobbyists over the past three years, The Times said.
Concerns about legal expenses have surfaced in recent months for other people caught in Mueller’s crosshairs, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whose family launched a legal defence fund on his behalf this week. Several more people inside and outside the Trump administration have also been forced to retain personal legal counsel.
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