Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort resigned in August, amid swirling rumors of his connections to foreign governments, including Russia. But the extent of those ties may only now be surfacing.
A new Associated Press investigation uncovered ties between Mr. Manafort and Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska dating back to 2005. In a confidential strategy plan, Manafort told Mr. Deripaska that he could influence politics, business, and media across the United States, Europe, and former Soviet states for the benefit of Russia.
"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 in the memo.
In 2006, Deripaska, considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies among the oligarch super-rich who dominate Russia’s business landscape, signed a contract with Manafort for $10 million annually.
It is unclear how much lobbying work Manafort conducted for Deripaska. The strategy memos and transfers of funds, however, suggest a link between the former campaign strategist and Russia that goes far beyond anything Manafort – or the Trump administration – had admitted to.
"I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments," Manafort previously said, the Associated Press reported. "My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russia's political interests."
Manafort’s ties to foreign governments had caused some observers, including President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to question his appointment to chair the Trump campaign from the beginning. In August, as investigative reports aired details of Manafort’s Washington lobbying to promote the pro-Russia Yanukovych government in Ukraine – lobbying never disclosed to the Justice Department – he finally stepped down. But Manafort maintained that he had done nothing wrong, saying criticism of the work was part of a “smear campaign.”
Manafort received money from Deripaska through at least 2009, the AP investigation found. Intriguingly, that money did not flow to his consulting company based in Alexandria, Va., Davis Manafort, but to a business he had registered in Delaware in 1992, LOAV, Ltd. He also apparently wanted to expand his promotion of pro-Putin policies into Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Georgia, the documents show.
For ongoing investigations into allegations that Russia influenced the US presidential elections in November to favor Trump, a rift between the consultant and the oligarch – laid bare in Cayman Islands legal documents – may be most salient. After Manafort apparently failed to invest $19 million in a Ukrainian TV company called Black Sea Cable, Deripaska representatives pledged to pursue him, a promise that continued into 2016. But after Mr. Trump became the Republican presidential nominee, those promises ended. Congressional Democrats said the documents would feature in their probe.
The Trump team’s on going connection to Manafort may also come under increasing scrutiny. Manafort continued to speak with Trump into 2017, he told a colleague, while his former business partner, Rick Gates, has been seen inside the White House on several occasions and helped plan Trump's inauguration.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.