Paul Manafort of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's staff listens during a round table discussion on security at Trump Tower in the Manhattan borough of New York, Aug. 17, 2016. 
Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Trump’s former campaign chair worked to ‘benefit’ Putin’s government

Paul Manafort, who helped lead Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as its chairman and de-facto campaign manager, has long had important ties to the Russian government. Indeed, it led to his ouster from Team Trump.

In mid-August, a month after Trump officially became the Republican nominee, Manafort resigned following reports that he helped a pro-Russian party in Ukraine secretly route payments to two prominent D.C. lobbying firms.

But the revelations surrounding Trump’s former campaign chair aren’t nearly over. The Associated Press reported this morning:
President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.

Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.
In a memo at the time, Manafort wrote that his work “can greatly benefit the Putin Government” and “can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

Asked for a reaction, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told NBC News, “It would be inappropriate for us to comment on a person who is not a White House employee.”

And while that may seem like a credible line to take, it was literally two days ago when Sean Spicer believed it was perfectly appropriate to comment on Paul Manafort, describing him as someone “who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time” in support of Team Trump.

That assessment continues to be absurd, though with the AP’s report in mind, it’s increasingly obvious why the president and his aides would pretend not to be associated with Manafort.

Postscript: A couple of weeks before he resigned from the Trump campaign, Manafort used Twitter to accuse Hillary Clinton of having “ties to Russia.” Irony may never recover.