It seemed like Paul Manafort, the well-connected fellow who chaired Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, came and went fairly quickly. One minute, he was defending another wild Trump statement, and the next he was announced as having departed the organization.
But he’s back.
Thanks to an exclusive report from the Associated Press, Manafort’s connections with a Russian billionaire, Oleg Deripaska — who was a friend of President Vladimir Putin — are coming to light. Manafort wasn’t connected with Deripaska to help Trump, but he was helping himself, with a $10 million annual contract to consult with the aluminum mogul. The contract began in 2006, according to the AP, and Manafort reported to Deripaska that his work “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”
The White House quickly said Trump wasn’t aware of Manafort’s work on behalf of the Russian billionaire. But as the AP reported, “the work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never work ed for Russian interests.”
The Associated Press report was based on documents showing that Manafort was parlaying his business/public relations/political skills into quite a handsome, multimillion-dollar living. And while there appears to be nothing illegal about Manafort working for a Russian billionaire connected to Putin, the AP noted that these connections and Manafort’s help came during the administration of President George W. Bush, when U.S.-Russian relations were tense.
The real problem, of course, is that despite all the White House dismissals of these connections as having come before Trump’s presidential campaign, these reports couldn’t come at a worse time because of the Russian hacking scandal, the credibility of which has been supported by U.S. intelligence agencies. And this on top of Trump’s boasts about how it’s better for Putin to like him (the president) than to dislike him.
Trump’s advisers and spokespeople may deny connections all day long, but they can’t escape Trump’s own words, including when he appeared to be cheering on then-alleged Russian hacking of Clinton-connected emails during the presidential campaign. Then, his comments were viewed with a measure of outrage but also of amusement, because few people thought Trump had a chance of being elected.
But as president, his words are going to be watched, and he’s still throwing them around recklessly in tweets and with claims — disputed this week by the director of the FBI — that then-President Obama had Trump’s home wiretapped.