The story could not be bigger, and the stakes for Trump – and the country – could not be higher.
Today, October 30th 1:46pm
“It’s bigger than Watergate.” “It’s a transparent sham.” “It’s a constitutional crisis.” “It’s a legal cliffhanger.”
Whatever else it may be, the story of Donald Trump and Russia comes down to this: a sitting president or his campaign is suspected of having coordinated with a foreign country to manipulate a US election. He strongly denies all wrongdoing and calls the inquiry a “witch hunt”. But prosecutors see red flags everywhere.
The story could not be bigger, and the stakes for Trump – and the country – could not be higher.
Investigators are asking two basic questions: did Trump’s presidential campaign collude at any level with Russian operatives to sway the 2016 US presidential election? And did Trump or others break the law to throw investigators off the trail?
The gravity of the case was highlighted early on Monday as the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort turned himself in to federal authorities to face charges including conspiracy against the United States, tax evasion and money laundering. Beginning in 2005, Manafort worked as a political consultant and business partner with Russian oligarchs and Kremlin-linked politicians in Ukraine, as did his colleague, Richard Gates III, who was also indicted on Monday.
Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and resigned in August after his ties to Kremlin-linked figures came under increasing scrutiny.
The charges against Manafort are separate from but related to the allegations of “collusion” between the Trump campaign writ large and Russian operatives. The presence at the top of the campaign of a suspect accused of working in secret for a foreign government, and of hiding money in offshore accounts to avoid tax payments, places the campaign uncomfortably close to Kremlin interests.
But the charges against Manafort and Gates do not mention any attempted manipulation of the 2016 election. Though Manafort personally offered “private briefings” on the election to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska in July 2016, Trump has denied any knowledge of Manafort’s dealings in the former Soviet bloc and has defendedManafort as a “very decent man”.
While a majority of the American public now believes that Russia tried to disrupt the US election, opinions about Trump campaign involvement tend to split along partisan lines: 73% of Republicans, but only 13% of Democrats, believe Trump did “nothing wrong” in his dealings with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
The affair has the potential to eject Trump from office. Experienced legal observers believe that prosecutors are investigating whether Trump committed an obstruction of justice. Both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton – the only presidents to face impeachment proceedings in the last century – were accused of obstruction of justice.
But Trump’s fate is probably up to the voters. Even if strong evidence of wrongdoing by him or his cohort emerged, a Republican congressional majority would probably block any action to remove him from office. (Such an action would be a historical rarity.)
Deepening negative perceptions attached to the Russia affair could, however, be the force that levels Trump, dooming a 2020 re-election bid. Or the president may yet be fully vindicated, re-elected and elevated in the eyes of the people.
None of the three congressional committees investigating the matter, nor the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has yet announced any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. The investigations have an open timeline.
Here’s what you need to know:
What are the most serious allegations?
It appears that prosecutors are weighing serious charges, including obstruction of justice, against Trump. (Weighing a charge does not mean bringing a charge.) Current and former Trump aides are likewise under intense pressure, a point underscored by the arrest of Paul Manafort on 30 October.
Collusion. Did Trump or his campaign “collude” with Russia to tip the 2016 election? Such collusion could take many conceivable forms. Investigators might be looking into whether members of Trump’s digital team traded information with Russia-linked hackers about which voters the campaign was most interested in. Or they might be looking for evidence of conversations about the timing of the release of certain hacked materials. Or about potential hacking targets. (No evidence has yet emerged of any of the above; Trump and his aides have denied all wrongdoing.)
Obstruction of justice. Has Trump gotten in the way of law enforcement efforts to figure out what happened? Investigators might be looking into whether Trump intended, by firing the FBI director James Comey on 9 May 2017, to pull the plug on the Russia investigation. Trump seems to have admitted as much. “I just fired the head of the FBI,” Trump reportedly told Russians in the Oval Office the next day. “He was crazy, a real nutjob. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
But Trump’s frame of mind is crucial in weighing a potential obstruction charge, and he has offered alternative explanations for the firing of Comey, including that Comey was mismanaging the FBI. To discern Trump’s intent, investigators are probably focusing on an initial letter to fire Comey drafted by Trump but rejected by the White House counsel. That letter has not yet been made public.
Abuse of power. Trump may have committed offenses that relate specifically to the office of the presidency, such as a violation of the oath of office (to uphold the constitution), or an abuse of power, which might for example involve firing Comey out of personal pique at Comey’s refusal publicly to say that Trump was not personally a target of the Russia investigation.
We don’t for the moment know, however, what exactly the investigators – three congressional committees plus the special counsel – are investigating. The official order appointing Robert Mueller authorizes him to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and related matters. Mueller is authorized to prosecute federal crimes.
Current and former aides. Trump aides are thought to face potential charges including money laundering, making false statements, failure to register as a foreign agent, campaign finance violations and more. In May, the former national security adviser Michael Flynn invoked constitutional protections against self-incrimination to avoid testifying before a Senate committee. Paul Manafort was arrested on 30 October on money laundering, tax evasion and conspiracy charges. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner stood outside the White House that month and said: “I did not collude.” Former aides Carter Page and Roger Stone have both been questioned by investigators and asked to turn over documents and records. The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has defended himself against accusations of making misleading statements to Congress. All these men – Flynn, Manafort, Kushner, Page, Stone and Sessions – have denied wrongdoing.
How much trouble is Trump in?
Who controls Congress? The short answer to this question is another question: who controls Congress? As long as Republicans are in charge, Trump is not likely to face impeachment proceedings or to be removed from office. A two-thirds majority in the Senate is required to remove a president from office through impeachment. Before such action, a simple House majority would be required to pass articles of impeachment.
Public opinion. If public opinion swings precipitously against the president, however, his grip on power could slip. At some point, Republicans in Congress may, if their constituents will it, turn on Trump.
Criminal charges. Apart from impeachment, Trump could, perhaps, face criminal charges, which would (theoretically) play out in the court system as opposed to Congress. Special counsel Robert Mueller has the power to file criminal charges against Trump, but it’s a matter of debate among scholars and prosecutors whether Trump, as a sitting president, may be prosecuted. It’s never been tried before.
Losing re-election. The most likely price Trump would pay, if he were perceived as guilty of wrongdoing, would be a 2020 re-election loss. Every president to win re-election since the second world war did so with an approval rating in the 49% or 50% range or better. Trump’s average approval rating is in the mid-to-upper 30s. The number could slide even further if, for example, one of his former aides or cabinet members is indicted on money laundering charges.
Is this a ‘witch hunt’ as Trump claims?
“You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people! #MAGA” Trump tweeted in June. Elsewhere, Trump has decried what he says are the wasteful costs of investigating the case.
Those assertions would seem to be undercut by developments such as the arrest of Manafort. But the question is seen through different lenses.
Partisan split. Are the president and his team the victims of a witch hunt? Your answer to the question probably depends on your political affiliation.
Seventy-three percent of registered Republicans think Trump did “nothing wrong” in his dealings with Russia and Putin, according to a Marist poll in July. But only a 36% minority of US adults overall think Trump did “nothing wrong”, the poll found. Forty-one percent of Democrats said they thought Trump had done “something illegal” and 59% said Trump’s campaign associates had broken the law.
Record of conduct. Apart from public opinion, what do we have to go on? A record of conduct by Trump and his aides going back decades, which is defined by secrecy and denials.
Trump has denied his past links to Russian investors and partners and a long history of attempted business deals in Russia, while praising President Putin. Trump aides denied meetings and conversations with Russian operatives that came to light anyway. When a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting was revealed, Trump misled the public as to its purpose. His tax returns, which could reveal previously undisclosed financial relationships, remain sealed to the public.
Faith in the rule of law. Is this a “witch hunt”? A negative reply relies on a faith in the rule of law in the United States.
Have investigators proceeded logically, in response to a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, and in accordance with congressional and justice department guidelines?
Republicans in Congress have given the allegations against the Trump campaign sufficient credence to advance investigations in three committees. Trump’s own justice department saw fit to take the step of appointing the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Mueller, who was named FBI director by George W Bush and held over by Barack Obama, enjoys a reputation for integrity from both sides of the aisle. Trump has said Mueller “is very very good friends with [James] Comey, which is very bothersome” but also said, “Robert Mueller is an honorable man.” Mueller’s critics have accused his operation of having a partisan tilt based on past campaign donations to Clinton and Obama made by at least five legal team members. But others have argued the donations are neither unusual nor evidence of anti-Trump bias.
A pattern of attacks. Trump’s “witch hunt” accusation is not his first attack on the rule of law. He branded Comeya liar and said the FBI was a “mess”. He has attacked judges and courts after rulings he did not like on immigration policy or his proposed travel ban. He publicly criticized the attorney general for a decision he did not agree with. As president, Trump has displayed a unique tendency to make baseless attacks on the justice department. But also as president, he also has unique ability to amplify those attacks and to make them devastatingly effective, eroding faith in the process.
A pattern of obstruction? Trump’s tendency to attack the process may ultimately backfire on him. Legal scholars have warned that Trump’s attacks on the special counsel investigation and justice department could amount to obstruction of justice by the president.
If Trump’s lawyers have warned him to stop tampering with the process, however, he has not heeded that advice. On 27 October, Trump tweeted: “It is now commonly agreed, after many months of COSTLY looking, that there was NO collusion between Russia and Trump.”
That wasn’t true, and it could be seen as an attempt to influence the outcome of the case. Later the same day, reports emerged that the first charges in the case had been filed. And just three weeks earlier, the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Richard Burr, said: “The issue of collusion is still open.”
The vital questions on Trump and Russia
Whatever else it may be, the story of Donald Trump and Russia comes down to this: a sitting president or his campaign is suspected of having coordinated with a foreign country to manipulate a US election. He strongly denies all wrongdoing and calls the …
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The Painstaking Detail of the Manafort-Gates Indictment Shows What a Solid Job Robert Mueller Has Done
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Before that hack, Donald Trump Jr. arranged for Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner to meet with an attorney who was offering help directly from Russia. (Trump Jr. famously responded to the offer of dirt on Clinton by saying, “[I]f it’s what …and more »
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Here’s the thing about Donald Trump: he’ll throw anyone under the bus. Moments after his campaign chairman Paul Manafort was arrested this morning, Trump dismissively tweeted that Manafort was arrested for crimes that took place before he joined the campaign. When Trump announced last month that he would be helping his associates with Trump-Russia legal fees, he made clear that none of the money would be going to his loyal former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Now we may know why.
Manafort was arrested this morning on a dozen different charges. One of them is “Conspiracy against the United States” – which is every bit as ugly as it sounds. He was also charged with failure to register as a foreign agent. That’s the exact same crime Michael Flynn admitted to when he retroactively registered as a foreign agent after he’d gotten caught. We know Special Counsel Robert Mueller has had a grand jury against Flynn for some time in Virginia. Mueller is intentionally making an example of Manafort, making sure his arrest is plastered all over the TV news in the most humiliating way possible. So where is Flynn’s big spectacle of an arrest? Why isn’t he being made an example of as well?
It’s entirely possible that Michael Flynn will be arrested before the day is over, as the dual arrests of Manafort and Rick Gates – along with today’s reveal of the George Papadopoulos plea deal – have made clear that Mueller is going all-in today. But even if Flynn does quietly get arrested today, he’ll have been spared the humiliation of having been the prominent first arrest out of the gate. There’s really only one reason for Mueller to give Flynn that kind of courtesy.
If Michael Flynn has cut a deal to flip on Donald Trump, he’ll still be indicted, charged, arrested, and required to plead guilty, as part of the carrying out of that deal. It’s notable that on this day, one of Donald Trump’s two key foreign agents got popped before the cameras for all to see, while the other one seems to be getting the kid gloves. Throw in Trump’s decision not to help Flynn with his legal fees, and it sounds like even the ever-oblivious Trump knows Flynn has cut a deal against him. Why would the ever-defiant Flynn cut a deal? Simple: to keep his son Michael Flynn Jr out of prison.
Keep in mind that Robert Mueller arrested Trump adviser George Papadopoulos months ago, and formally cut a deal with him weeks ago, and none of us are learning about it until today (link). So it’s entirely possible that Michael Flynn has already secretly cut a deal as well. For that matter it’s possible Flynn already surrendered himself awhile ago – which would also explain why he wasn’t popped this morning. Stay tuned.
The post Paul Manafort has been arrested, and it sounds like Michael Flynn has cut a deal against Donald Trump appeared first on Palmer Report.
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Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indictment: The full text
A federal grand jury issued an indictment Friday against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s longtime associate Rick Gates. Interested in Russia Investigation? Add Russia Investigation as an interest to stay …
New York Post
Manafort lived the high life off millions allegedly hidden in offshore accounts
New York Post
Paul Manafort raked in tens of millions of dollars by secretly working for the Ukrainian government — and blew more than $12 million on shopping sprees, antiques, Range Rovers and housekeeping, according to court documents.
A former Trump aide now under federal investigation as part of the Russia probe earned millions working for a corrupt pro-Russian political party that repeatedly disparaged America’s most important military alliance.
Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chief from May to August 2016, spent nearly a decade as a consultant to Ukraine’s Party of Regions and its standardbearer, Viktor Yanukovych.
Backed by Russian-leaning oligarchs, the party opposed NATO membership and spouted anti-Western rhetoric that once helped fuel violence against American marines. Its reign ended when Yanukovych fled to Russia after bloody street protests against his personal corruption and pro-Moscow actions.
Manafort has always said he tried to Westernize the party and steer it towards a democratic model, and denies any part in anti-NATO messaging, but Ukrainian critics and U.S. diplomats who served in Kiev aren’t so sure.
Manafort also earned millions doing private business deals with some of the oligarchs who backed the party.
As NBC News previously reported, federal officials say that the money Manafort earned from both the party and the oligarchs — and what he did with it — are part of what has drawn the attention of investigators. New details keep emerging as U.S. and Ukrainian officials piece together Manafort’s contacts and payments in Ukraine from 2004 to 2014.
Manafort Goes to Ukraine
Manafort, the son of a wealthy Connecticut builder, had worked as a lobbyist and as an aide for Republican presidents before his stint in Ukraine. He had built a reputation for repackaging controversial foreign leaders for U.S. consumption. Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Angolan guerilla leader Jonas Savimbi, and Zairian strongman Mobutu Sese Seko were among his clients.
In 2004, Manafort was hired by clients in Ukraine who needed a similar image overhaul.
Viktor Yanukovych had been governor of Donetsk, a Russian-speaking region close to the Russian border, and then the prime minister of Ukraine. He and his faction, the Party of Regions, were thought by many Western observers to have links to organized crime. As a young man, Yanukovych had been convicted of robbery and assault.
John Herbst, who was U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2004 to 2006, said the motivations of the oligarchs who ran the party seemed uncomplicated. “My impression of Yanukovych and the others — and I knew most of the senior folks — it was all about getting rich or richer, and maintaining power.”
Aided by high-priced Russian political consultants, Yanukovych ran for president of Ukraine in 2004, and seemed to have won.
But the election was tainted by charges of fraud and corruption — most against Yanukovych and the Party of Regions — and an attempted assassination. A month prior to balloting, someone poisoned Yanukovych’s main rival, pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko, and nearly killed him. On Election Day, Yanukovych, who had trailed in polls by double digits, won by three points, sparking accusations of voter fraud.
The government voided the election results and scheduled a do-over.
Richard Engel: Yanukovych is in Russia 0:49
Weeks before the December 2004 presidential “re”-election, a pro-Russian Ukrainian billionaire and major Party of Regions donor named Rinat Akhmetov asked Manafort to help with Yanukovych’s troubled campaign.
Yanukovych lost the do-over election to Yushchenko, but Manafort won a job he would keep for a decade.
Manafort was hired to prepare the Party of Regions for the parliamentary elections of 2006, in which Yanukovych would try to reclaim the office of prime minister.
By 2006, Manafort and his team were “the principal political consultants in the Party of Regions,” said Taras Chornovil, a former Ukrainian Parliament deputy who was a member of the party from 2004 to 2007.
A leaked U.S. State Department cable from 2006 said that Manafort’s job was to give the Party of Regions an “extreme makeover” and “change its image from … a haven for mobsters into that of a legitimate political party.”
Manafort allegedly came up with the POR’s slogan for the 2006 election, “A Better Life Today.” Though Manafort couldn’t speak Russian or Ukrainian, he taught Yankovych how to give a speech and how to stay on message.
According to Chornovil, Manafort’s campaign tactics that year also included mandating that Yanukovych surrogates wear make-up and Hugo Boss suits during TV interviews. After their TV appearances, they had to return the rented suits to party headquarters, Chornovil said.
When Chornovil complained about Manafort to a close associate of Yanukovych, Chornovil said the man told him Manafort was untouchable — “a big cheese here, in charge of everything.”
Manafort was also trying to help Yanukovych expand his base of support.
Ukraine has a sharp political and geographic divide between its pro-Western, Ukrainian-speaking majority and a large Russian minority that looks East.
While other American consultants, both Democratic and Republican, were working on the campaigns of Ukraine’s pro-Western “Orange” parties, Manafort was working for a party whose base was in Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine. Manafort’s new bosses were oligarchs friendly to Moscow, and hostile to America’s principal military alliance, NATO.
He could attract pro-Western Ukrainians, meanwhile, by broadcasting his support for European Union membership. Some oligarchs behind the party were eager to do business with Europe anyway.
Bill Taylor, who was U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009, said Manafort would contact the U.S. embassy and tell them he was urging his client to look West. “[He said] he’d tell Yanukovych, ‘You’ll do better in Western Ukraine if you orient more toward Europe,” recalled Taylor. “‘To broaden your base, you should orient toward the EU.'”
For the next eight years, Yanukovych would adjust his positions on NATO and the EU as needed, tacking East or West depending on the electoral winds and his audience.
Sometimes his party’s public actions and Yanukovych’s private assurances to Western officials were at odds.
“[Yanukovych] was willing to allow all kinds of cooperation with NATO,” which the Russians did not like, said Amb. Herbst, “but it’s true that [Yanukovych] was organizing rallies against NATO exercises.”
Ukrainian parliament votes to have president tried 0:28
State Department cables show that soon after the Party of Regions helped stoke anti-NATO proteststhat spurred an attack on U.S. marines in Crimea, Yanukovych told the U.S. ambassador he wanted Ukraine to join the military alliance.
Through a spokesman, Manafort says his role with Yanukovych and the POR was “strategist and consultant.” Manafort recommended “strategy and messaging,” he said, “especially as it related to the campaign and fulfillment of campaign promises.” The party’s political campaigns, said the spokesman, were “built on a foundation of economic recovery and building a relationship with the West that supported and focused on Ukraine being a part of the European Union.”
Critics of Manafort, however, insist his gameplan for the 2006 election was to drive a wedge into the electorate. Chornovil, Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker and former investigative journalist, and Taras Berezovets, who advised one of Yanukovych’s main political foes, all say Manafort’s strategy was based on polarizing the voting public. They say he wanted to set Russian speakers against Ukrainian speakers, and supporters of Moscow against supporters of NATO.
According to Berezovets, “His idea was to [use] the matter of language to divide the electorate. The whole idea, it really worked.”
Berezovets called anti-NATO rhetoric “one of the key ideas of Paul Manafort.”
A former U.S. diplomat in the region said he doubted using wedge issues like NATO was Manafort’s idea, but said, “Manafort was not above telling Yanukovych to exploit wedge issues.” He also acknowledged it could seem odd for a U.S. citizen to be advising an anti-NATO candidate: “I think he probably distinguishes his personal values from his political advice.”
Through his spokesman, Manafort said he never had anything to do with any anti-NATO rhetoric. “Mr. Manafort encouraged the POR to move towards the West and NATO.”
The Party of Regions won the parliamentary elections in 2006, making Yanukovych prime minister again.
‘I Am Trying to Play a Constructive Role’
Yanukovych had to run for prime minister again in 2007. Accusations of corruption and links to the Putin regime were damaging his client’s prospects, so Manafort went back to work grooming his image.
Responding to criticism that he was simply repackaging a flawed candidate, Manafort told the New York Times at the time, “I am not here just for the election…I am trying to play a constructive role in developing a democracy. I am helping to build a political party.”
Manafort hired the American public relations firm Edelman to boost Yanukovych’s public image in Europe and the U.S. for a monthly retainer of $35,000.
Yanukovych, meanwhile, traveled to Germany as part of a bid for European Union membership. “In public and private statements both at home and abroad,” said another leaked cable, “Yanukovych consistently reiterates his government’s commitment to Europe.”
Yanukovych lost the 2007 race. After the loss, both he and his party tacked East with overt anti-NATO rhetoric, a response to Yushchenko’s push for Ukraine to join NATO.
From January through April 2008, the Party of Regions mounted a slick, well-coordinated campaign against Ukraine’s NATO membership. The “NATO No” slogan appeared on giant television screens and mass-produced blue signs at rallies where Yanukovych spoke. The same slogan was emblazoned on blue and yellow signs carried by the party’s members of Parliament onto the floor of the Parliament in February.
Provided with examples of the messaging, Manafort’s spokesman declined to comment.
In 2010, Yanukovych ran for president again, and Manafort again worked for him. This time, Yanukovych pledged to end Ukraine’s NATO bid. Ukraine should not be a member of any military bloc, he said, because “this is the view of the Ukrainian people.” During a meeting with the U.S. ambassador, he said he wanted to “improve cooperation with the U.S. and NATO, but was also interested in “restoring” relations with Russia.
He was elected president, and this time turned East for good.
“Either Manafort was wrong about his guy, or he just didn’t care,” said Dan Fried, a former assistant secretary of state for the region under George W. Bush and Obama. “I think Manafort would’ve preferred his guy be the guy he said he was, but he was okay if he wasn’t. He was doing a job for a client. That’s it.”
A year into Yanukovych’s presidency, his administration prosecuted his chief political rival, former “Orange” Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, for allegedly abusing her position during her time in office. She was sentenced to seven years in prison. Many international observers condemned the prosecution as politically motivated.
Manafort again looked to the U.S. to burnish his client’s image, and dispel charges that Yanukovych was a corrupt, pro-Putin autocrat. He arranged for Yanukovych’s administration to hire the law firm Skadden Arps to do a legal review of the prosecution. The resulting brief pointed out some serious procedural flaws, but was largely approving of the Ukrainian court.
Around the same time, however, the Yanukovych administration began to strengthen its ties to the Putin regime and to further Russify the Party of Regions.
According to Inna Bohoslovska, who was a Party of Regions-aligned member of parliament at the time, starting in 2012, “[Ethnically] Russian candidates were placed in all the strong positions. Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Security Service.”
Yanukovych then reversed his position on integrating Ukraine with Europe. Ukraine was about to sign an EU association agreement, making its turn away from Russia and towards the West official, when Yanukovych backed out a week before an official signing ceremony.
Yanukovych’s popularity plummeted. His EU decision ignited massive demonstrations in the streets of Kiev, with some crowds as big as 1 million. Ukrainian police cracked down on protestors, and both police and protestors were killed in street violence that took at least 100 lives.
After three months of demonstrations, Yanukovych was ousted as president in February 2014. He fled to Russia. Activists broke into Mezhyhirya, his ornate presidential palace, and were outraged by its gold-plated opulence. “[Manafort] knew that the president’s salary was not enough for the luxury of the Mezhyhirya, so he should have been aware that it was anything but legal money,” said a top Ukrainian anti-corruption investigator.
Russian troops invaded Crimea shortly afterwards, citing Ukrainian unrest and Yanukovych’s ouster as justifications. Russia has now annexed Crimea.
Manafort’s allies have said that Yanukovych stopped listening to Manafort after he became president in 2010, and that Manafort warned him of the consequences of actions like prosecuting Tymoshenko. Manafort’s spokesman said Manafort “was not involved in any of the actions taken in the street riots and opposed the use of force.”
Manafort returned to Ukraine after Yanukovych fled the country. He tried, with limited success, to help remnants of the Party of Regions regain power in the October 2014 parliamentary elections.
Yanukovych remains in Russia. He has been sanctioned by the EU and the U.S. for the Crimea invasion, and is wanted by Ukraine for a long list of charges that have included corruption and murder.
“Yanukovych was so awful,” said Fried. “That’s not Manafort’s fault, but the fact that Manafort helped Yanukovych win an election didn’t do Ukraine any good.”
Who Paid The Bills?
Manafort says the 2014 election was his last in Ukraine, and he is done with Ukrainian politics.
But he is now facing questions from Congress and federal investigators about how he was paid for his political work, what he did with the money he earned, and what other business relationships he developed while in Ukraine.
A Party of Regions accounting book, dubbed the “black ledger” and obtained in August by Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), allegedly shows that Manafort was paid $12.7 million in cash by the party between Nov. 2007 and Oct. 2012.
The ledger records what Ukrainian investigators say were off-the-books payments by the Party of Regions to election officials, party functionaries, and members of parliament. Manafort appears as an intended recipient in the ledger 22 times from 2007 until 2012, according to the NABU. The Bureau notes that the entries are not themselves proof that the payments were made.
In March, journalist Serhiy Leshchenko made waves when he said he had obtained an invoice on Manafort company letterhead detailing how Manafort received money from a shell company in Belize for the alleged sale of 500 computers.
The date on the invoice and the amount of money match an entry in the black ledger marked “Manafort.” Manafort’s spokesman dismissed the invoice and letterhead as fabricated. The shell company, Neocom Systems Ltd., was registered with Belize’s International Business Company Registry, but the principal of the firm that registered the shell company told NBC News he had only dealt with its lawyers, and couldn’t provide any information about its owners. It was struck from the registry in 2011 and dissolved in 2014, according to the Belizean registry.
Manafort has described the ledger as a forgery. He says any payments he received from Ukraine were legitimate compensation for his work as a consultant, and the payments were lawfully wired to him.
Manafort’s spokesman told NBC News that Manafort “has no knowledge of any payment ledger. Mr. Manafort was only paid via wire — not cash — through U.S. institutions, typically using clients’ preferred financial institutions and instructions.”
The spokesman said Manafort declined to answer whether he had reported to the U.S. government all money and income received from Ukraine.
Ukrainian investigators told NBC News they are now looking into Manafort’s role in the Skadden deal, but say Manafort is not a suspect in any of their investigations.
Manafort also did business with several Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs.
In 2008, Manafort and his real estate partners courted a Ukrainian oligarch named Dmytro Firtash, a major Party of Regions backer, in an $850 million plan to redevelop a famous New York hotel, the Drake. The plan never bore fruit.
Fugitive Ukrainian president vows to fight 6:08
Firtash, who acknowledged to the U.S. ambassador that he got his start in business with the permission of a Russian crime lord, according to a leaked cable, is under federal indictment in the Northern District of Illinois for bribery. He is under arrest in Austria pending his extradition to the U.S.
In 2007, Manafort went into business with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska to invest in Ukrainian and European assets. Manafort’s partner Rick Gates “regularly visited” the Moscow offices of Deripaska’s representatives to discuss the investments, according to a later lawsuit.
In 2007 and 2008, companies controlled by Deripaska paid $26.25 million in investment capital and management fees to Manafort and his partners for a deal to buy a cable television company in Ukraine, according to a U.S. court filing. According to Manafort’s spokesman, all the capital was paid to the seller of the company, but Deripaska’s legal representatives alleged the investment was never actually made.
By 2014, Manafort and Deripaska had fallen out over the cable deal, which never materialized.
What did Manafort do with his Ukrainian millions?
He was associated with at least 15 bank accounts and 10 companies on Cyprus, dating back to 2007, according to two banking sources with direct knowledge.
The sources told NBC News’ Richard Engel that after certain transactions raised concern, the bank began investigating the accounts for possible money-laundering. Manafort closed some of the accounts in 2012.
A spokesman for Manafort told NBC News that all the accounts were set up at the direction of clients in Cyprus, a common banking center for Russians and Ukrainians, “for a legitimate business purpose.”
As NBC News and others previously reported, Manafort also bought four properties in New York City between 2006 and 2013, apparently for cash, and then took out more than $15 million in loans on them between 2015 and 2017.
A source familiar with the matter said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is taking “a preliminary look” at Manafort’s real estate transactions.
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Manafort said his transactions were “executed in a transparent fashion and my identity was disclosed — in fact my name is right there on the documents.”
In September 2016, NBC News has reported Manafort took out a mortgage on his home in Bridgehampton, New York, but no mortgage notice was ever filed and no mortgage tax paid, according to Suffolk County records. His name did not appear on any publicly available documents.
A spokesperson for Manafort said the mortgage was a bridge loan and was paid off by December. Manafort’s lawyer said the mortgage paperwork was rejected because of an error and was never refiled.
Federal investigators have now subpoenaed records related to that loan.