President Donald Trump’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin deepened today (Mar. 22) following a new revelation that former campaign manager Paul Manafort worked secretly for Putin in apparent violation of the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Manafort allegedly crafted an ambitious political campaign to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, Western Europe and the United States, The Associated Press reported.
Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally, paid Manafort at least $10 million annually beginning in 2006, according to people familiar with Manafort’s payments and business records obtained by the AP.
Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq.), Manafort was required to disclose his relationship with Putin’s government and provide information about related activities and finances. There is no evidence that he did so.
Although Manafort worked for Deripaska, his job required him to influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, according to news reports.
As such, he was working in a “political or quasi-political capacity” for Putin, which required him to register and disclose his relationship.
Willfully failing to register is a felony. A conviction could lead to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The government has been accused over the years of selectively enforcing the law.
Not only did Manafort fail to register under the act, he has repeatedly denied working for Russian interests of any kind. The Trump administration has also echoed those claims. Today, White House spokesman refused to comment, claiming Manafort was not a White House employee.
Manafort’s work on behalf of Putin dates back at least to 2005 during the George W. Bush administration. Relations with Russia during that time were poor. The relationship continued at least through 2016, although possibly in different capacities.
The two had a falling out after the Russian oligarch gave Manafort an estimated $19 million to invest in Black Sea Cable, a Ukrainian television company. Deripaska claims Manafort simply pocketed the money.
Earlier this year, Deripaska publicly accused Manafort of fraud and pledged to recover the money.
Only two days ago, FBI Director James Comey revealed during an extraordinary congressional hearing that the agency is investigating Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion with the Trump campaign.
“I’ve been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” Comey said.
“That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts,” he added.
Significantly, Comey revealed the investigation has been underway since July, about a month before Manafort was forced to resign as Trump’s campaign manager.
The move was prompted after The New York Times reported that Manafort, had allegedly pocketed more than $12 million from Vladimir Putin puppet Viktor F. Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president.
Yanukovych was ousted in a pro-Western coup, prompting Russia to seize the Crimea and plunge the country into a civil war.
Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau discovered secret ledgers showing that Manafort received the payments between 2007 and 2012. He also failed to disclose the relationship.
For his part, Manafort told the AP that his work for Deripaska was being unfairly characterized as “inappropriate or nefarious.” He said he is the victim of a “smear campaign.”
“I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments. My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russian political interests,” he said in the statement.
Although Manafort left Trump’s campaign in August, he still maintains contact with Trump by telephone, he reportedly told a colleague this year.