Manafort in Russian spotlight

Manafort in Russian spotlight
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Former Trump campaign manager Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortTrump says he would consider pardons for those implicated in Mueller investigation Graham releases newly declassified documents on Russia probe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - Mask mandates, restrictions issued as COVID-19 spreads MORE is back in the spotlight in the myriad of investigations into Russia’s involvement in the U.S. election.

Manafort had taken a backseat in the cast of Russia-linked characters to former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who is currently defying a subpoena in the Senate investigation into Russian interference.

But the longtime Republican operative has by far the deepest and most well-documented ties to Russian businessmen and politicians.

The New York Times on Wednesday revealed that Russian spies had strategized during the election how best to leverage Manafort to influence Trump. The report came on the heels of testimony from former CIA head John Brennan that Trump campaign associates were in contact with Russian officials.

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Manafort, who left the campaign in August in part over his ties to Russia, has long been seen as central to both the federal and congressional probes into the matter.

The degree of intentional cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russian officials is one of the central questions of the federal investigation, now being led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The White House has offered shifting explanations of Manafort’s intimacy with the president. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Manafort had only “played a very limited role” in Trump’s campaign before clarifying two days later that he “should have been more precise with respect to Paul’s role.”

While Manafort’s situation does not appear as dire as Flynn’s, NC News reported this week that federal investigators have issued a subpoena seeking records relating to his $3.5 million mortgage on a home in the Hamptons.

Ukrainian officials say that they have now been questioned about Manafort by investigators in the federal probe.

Last week, he voluntarily turned over hundreds of pages of documents to Senate investigators and has offered to be interviewed by both the Senate and House Intelligence Committees.

Manafort has long maintained that he was not involved in Moscow’s wide-ranging influence operation and a spokesperson has argued that the voluntary provision of documents illustrated his willingness to cooperate with investigators.

But as early as last summer, Manafort was reportedly seen by the Russians as a key lever to exert influence over then-candidate Trump.

Months before the presidential election, according to The Times, U.S. spies collected intelligence showing senior Russian officials discussing using their relationship with the deposed president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who at one time employed Manafort.

The information was considered credible enough that the intelligence agencies passed it along to the FBI, which in July had begun investigating possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and the Russians.

Brennan on Tuesday told lawmakers that he had passed along intelligence showing contacts between Trump officials and the Russians that “raised questions about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals” — whether wittingly or unwittingly.

Manafort has been a polarizing figure within Trump world ever since he joined on in late March to ward off the looming threat of a contested convention. Once Trump’s path to the nomination became clear, he accumulated power within the campaign and ultimately took over when campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was fired.

But Manafort found himself in hot water over last summer amid swirling reports linking him to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. News outlets linked him to a successful push to weaken the GOP platform’s language about protecting Ukraine from Russian intervention. And a report surfaced about his name appearing on a secret ledger listing $12.7 million in under-the-table payments from a pro-Russian Ukrainian party.

While the bombshell reports alleging possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia hadn’t dropped by that point, the swirling revelations cast a dark cloud of headlines over Trump’s campaign that ultimately sent Manafort packing.

A spokesman for Manafort, Jason Maloni, has denied that his work helped Russia.

“Although Mr. Manafort’s focus was always domestic Ukrainian politics, that work did make a difference and helped move the Ukraine towards a Western orbit and further from a Russian orbit,” Maloni told Bloomberg this week.

Manafort largely went dark in the months after he left the campaign, but he’s resurfaced as the Russia investigation has intensified.

The Associated Press reported in March that Manafort presented a Russian aluminum billionaire a secret strategy to influence the political, business and media environments that would benefit Putin. Manafort has denied that his work for the aluminum magnate was in support of the Russian government and the White House distanced Trump from the report.

“There is no suggestion that he did anything improper.  But to suggest that that President knew who his clients were from a decade ago is a bit insane,” Spicer told reporters at a press briefing when asked about the report.

On top of those revelations, Manafort may have been foiled by hackers who targeted his daughters’ text messages.

According to texts posted on a dark-web site and obtained by Politico and Business Insider, Manafort’s daughters referred to Trump and Manafort as “a perfect pair [of] power-hungry egomaniacs,” called payments from the Ukrainian politicians “blood money,” and offered some choice words about her father.

“He is a sick f---ing tyrant,” his daughter, Andrea, said in a 2015 text, adding that “his work and payment in Ukraine is legally questionable.”