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Old memos show former Trump aide Manafort offered to promote Russian interests, AP reports

March 22, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign manager who has been under intense scrutiny, reportedly worked in 2005 for a Russian billionaire with close ties to President Vladimir Putin and drew up plans to influence U.S. politics to favor Russian interests. Hari Sreenivasan discusses the new information with Jeff Horwitz of the Associated Press, who helped break the story.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: From April through August of last year, Paul Manafort was the chairman of the Trump campaign. He has been under intense scrutiny for his business and political ties to both Russia and Ukraine.

Today, the Associated Press uncovered new information about Manafort and his dealings with Russians.

Hari Sreenivasan has the story.

HARI SREENIVASAN: According to the Associated Press, Manafort worked for a Russian billionaire in 2005 with close ties to President Vladimir Putin, and drew up plans to influence politics in the U.S. that would favor Russian government interests.

For more on all of this, we turn to Jeff Horwitz of the AP, who helped break the story.

Jeff, let’s lay out your findings here.

JEFF HORWITZ, Associated Press: Sure.

So, according to memos that we obtained that Manafort wrote to Oleg Deripaska and his associates — and Deripaska is a Russian aluminum magnate, very close to Vladimir Putin — Manafort was working for Deripaska for a number of years, starting sort of in ’04, and probably continuing to about 2009, on a whole bunch of projects in Eastern Europe, with some ties into the U.S. as well.

And so what Manafort was basically promising to do in the memos we have obtained is to — was attempt to undercut Orange revolutions, so sort of revolutions that were — as a reference to the 2004 uprising in Ukraine that overthrew a pro-Russian government, to try and prevent that and sort of promote the Putin government’s interests throughout the region.

And part of that was focused on the U.S. as well, with the idea being that Manafort would use contacts in Washington as well.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, in the context of what’s happening now in the Trump administration, what’s the connection between what Paul Manafort did 10 years ago or 12 years ago and what’s happening today?

JEFF HORWITZ: So, Paul Manafort’s work is historical on this front.

He had a falling with Oleg Deripaska over a business deal that soured. And, as best as we know, there is no continued business relationship between them at all.

But the thing that is important here is that Paul Manafort, in these memos, both demonstrated a willingness and sort of a knowledge of the region and set of contacts to do work on behalf of the Russian government. In fact, that’s one of the things that he was even promising in these memos, was that he would happily do work directly on behalf of the Russian state, if it was of interest.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, what’s the White House response been to this?

JEFF HORWITZ: So, the White House’s response to this has been, one, to note that it was 10 years ago. And that’s emphatically true.

And they have been very careful to say that Donald Trump, President Donald Trump knew nothing about Paul Manafort’s past clients. Now, they are — also, of course, have sort of downplayed the role that Mr. Manafort played during the campaign. He was the campaign chairman. He was in charge of the ship for, I think, a number of months, certainly including the Republican National Convention.

And, you know, some of his people sort of have stayed on in Trump’s orbit as well. But the White House’s position is that this has nothing to do with Mr. Trump, that Paul Manafort is a private citizen, that he did nothing illegal, and that it’s time to move on.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is Paul Manafort being investigated in any way now?

JEFF HORWITZ: So, yes, there are a number of different things going on, and some of this has been — a lot of this has been publicly reported already.

There are sort of a number of different views. And, of course, we also have members of Congress who are at this point hinting that they want to subpoena him or haul him in front of committees in either the Senate or the House. And so that, I think, is going to be something where we might be getting a bit more public exposure to this.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And, to be clear, this is not the reason that he no longer was chairman of Donald Trump’s campaign. That is kind of a separate issue.

JEFF HORWITZ: No, no.

He left the campaign in August amid a whole bunch of concerns as to whether they — first of all, whether the Ukrainian government might have paid him cash payments in a way that was potentially illicit. That was sort of a controversy back then.

And then we also reported in, I believe, in 2013, he actually had been doing lobbying work or had been — his firm had been overseeing lobbying work in the United States on behalf of those Ukrainian interests without disclosing it.

So, those two things together sort of preceded his departure.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Jeff Horwitz of the Associated Press, joining us from Washington, thanks so much.

JEFF HORWITZ: Thank you.

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