As I noted yesterday, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort abruptly resigned from the Trump team Friday morning, and now we know why: Manafort is effectively on Putin's payroll as a foreign agent and didn't disclose it.
A firm run by Donald Trump's campaign chairman directly orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine's ruling political party, attempting to sway American public opinion in favor of the country's pro-Russian government, emails obtained by The Associated Press show. Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, never disclosed their work as foreign agents as required under federal law.
The lobbying included attempts to gain positive press coverage of Ukrainian officials in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press. Another goal: undercutting American public sympathy for the imprisoned rival of Ukraine's then-president. At the time, European and American leaders were pressuring Ukraine to free her.
Gates personally directed the work of two prominent Washington lobbying firms in the matter, the emails show. He worked for Manafort's political consulting firm at the time.
Manafort and Gates' activities carry outsized importance, since they have steered Trump's campaign since April. The pair also played a formative role building out Trump's campaign operation after pushing out an early rival. Trump shook up his campaign's organization again this week, but Manafort and Gates retain their titles and much of their influence. The new disclosures about their work come as Trump faces criticism for his friendly overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump said Thursday night that, if elected, he will ask senior officials in his administration not to accept speaking fees, for five years after leaving office, from corporations that lobby "or from any entity tied to a foreign government." He said it was among his efforts to "restore honor to government."
Manafort and Gates have previously said they were not doing work that required them to register as foreign agents. Neither commented when reached by the AP on Thursday.
Manafort could be facing a felony conviction on that alone, but the fun part is he was still advising the pro-Putin section of the Ukrainian government as recently as this spring.
In an effort to collect previously undisclosed millions of dollars he’s owed by an oligarch-backed Ukrainian political party, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been relying on a trusted protégé whose links to Russia and its Ukrainian allies have prompted concerns among Manafort associates, according to people who worked with both men.
The protégé, Konstantin Kilimnik, has had conversations with fellow operatives in Kiev about collecting unpaid fees owed to Manafort’s company by a Russia-friendly political party called Opposition Bloc, according to operatives who work in Ukraine.
A Russian Army-trained linguist who has told a previous employer of a background with Russian intelligence, Kilimnik started working for Manafort in 2005 when Manafort was representing Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, a gig that morphed into a long-term contract with Viktor Yanukovych, the Kremlin-aligned hard-liner who became president of Ukraine.
Kilimnik eventually became “Manafort’s Manafort” in Kiev, and he continued to lead Manafort’s office there after Yanukovych fled the country for Russia in 2014, according to Ukrainian business records and interviews with several political operatives who have worked in Ukraine’s capital. Kilimnik and Manafort then teamed up to help promote Opposition Bloc, which rose from the ashes of Yanukovych’s regime. The party is funded by oligarchs who previously backed Yanukovych, including at least one who the Ukrainian operatives say is close to both Kilimnik and Manafort.
Kilimnik has continued advising Opposition Bloc, which opposes Ukraine’s teetering pro-Western government, even as the party stopped fully paying Manafort’s firm, leaving it unable to pay some of its employees and rent, according to people familiar with the firm and its relationship to Opposition Bloc.
All the while, Kilimnik has told people that he remains in touch with his old mentor. He told several people that he traveled to the United States and met with Manafort this spring. The trip and alleged meeting came at a time when Manafort was immersed in helping guide Trump’s campaign through the bitter Republican presidential primaries, and was trying to distance himself from his work in Ukraine.
So yes, Manafort was basically still on Yanukovich's payroll while working for Trump, and that ties him directly to Putin in a neat little package, all while explaining Trump's continuing love for Moscow.
No wonder Manafort bailed. The Republican candidate for president is in Putin's pocket. And quite frankly I think he's going to jail for this.