In the latest attempt to stir the pot over allegations that Trump and members of his closest circle had ties to Russia, on Wednesday, the AP unearthed a 2005 memo from former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort - who was let go by the Trump campaign in the summer to Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who became Russia's richest man under Putin and whose key asset is a 48% stake in Russian aluminum giant Rusal, according to which Manafort would boost Putin's agenda and reportedly undermine anti-Russian opposition across Europe, the U.S. and former Soviet republics.
"We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success," Manafort wrote, adding it "will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government."
As a reminder, Manafort worked as Trump's unpaid campaign chairman last year from March until August. Trump asked Manafort to resign after AP revealed that Manafort had orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation until 2014 on behalf of Ukraine's ruling pro-Russian political party.
Furthermore, the AP wrote that Manafort and Deripaska eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, and maintained a business relationship until at least 2009. Manafort confirmed to the AP that he worked for Deripaska in various countries, but said the work was being unfairly cast as "inappropriate or nefarious" as part of a "smear campaign."
According to AP, for the $10 million contract, Manafort did not use his "public-facing" consulting firm, Davis Manafort but rather used a company, LOAV Ltd., that he had registered in Delaware in 1992. He listed LOAV as having the same address of his lobbying and consulting firms in Alexandria, Virginia. In other records, LOAV's address was listed as Manafort's home, also in Alexandria.
Ironically, even the AP reports that despite the retention, relations between then-president George W. Bush and Putin only grew worse"
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.
Then, moments ago responding to the AP story that is certain to dominate today's news cycle, Vera Kurochkina, a spokeswoman for Deripaska, told Bloomberg that the Russian billionaire didn’t pay Manafort for the Russia-related work. She adds that there was only an “agreement between Mr. Deripaska and Mr. Manafort to provide investment-consulting services related to business interests of Mr. Deripaska which now is a subject to legal claims,” Kurochkina said by e-mail.
Additionally, she denied AP’s report that Deripaska paid Paul Manafort for work to improve Russia’s image in 2005.
That said, we doubt Deripaska's response will result in an end of investigations into Manafort's, or Trump's, ties to Russia, especially since the focus of the AP story is that Manafort did not disclose details about the lobbying work to the Justice Department during the period the contract was in place.
Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, people who lobby in the U.S. on behalf of foreign political leaders or political parties must provide detailed reports about their actions to the department. Willfully failing to register is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, though the government rarely files criminal charges.
In retrospect, however, what Manafort did was nothing more than PR work and image consulting for a Russian oligarch over a decade ago, something which we reported two weeks ago was done by none other than Tony Podesta, brother of Hillary's campaign manager, John Podesta, who was hired by Russia's largest bank, Sberbank, to "lobby its interests in the United States and proactively seek the removal of various Obama-era sanctions." That story, however, is not one the mainstream media seems to be much, if at all, interested in for obvious reasons.