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Investigators have found secret, hand-written ledgers that show Viktor F. Yanukovych, former president of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin supporter, had earmarked $12.7 million in funds for Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's current campaign chairman. The secret funds potentially obtained by Manafort is part of a long line of publicly pro-Kremlin maneuvers made by Trump. And the newly found ledgers aren't the most troublesome aspect of Manafort's career, which been built largely on helping dictators and despots abroad attain political power.
Before joining the Trump campaign as chairman in March, Manafort served as an election consultant around the world. Slate reports that Manafort helped Gerald Ford obtain the delegates needed to defeat Ronald Reagan in the 1976 Republican National Convention. But Manafort also has an extensive foreign resume, specifically in Ukraine, where he worked with the Ukranian government and strategized to create a stronger Russian influence in the country, according to Slate.
The relationship between Manafort and Trump began in the early '90s, when the firm Manafort ran with Roger Stone worked with Trump on an illegal smear-campaign against Trump's Native American rivals in the casino business, Slate reports. While Manafort didn’t work directly on Trump’s account at the time, he was said to have chimed in on the campaign. Manafort later moved into Trump Tower in 2006.
Manafort's work with the Ukraine
Manafort was initially called to Ukraine in 2005, by the Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Ahmetov, whose favored candidate Yanukovych had not only just lost the presidential election, but had been so corrupt in his antics that his campaign was largely responsible for sparking the Orange Revolution in Kiev, according to Slate. As a consultant, Manafort was able to transform Yanukovych into a politician better able to manipulate the right-wing base, leading him to a narrow presidential victory in 2010.
The man who had formerly been the face of corruption and a major impetus for a bloody revolution was now president.
But beyond his role as an consultant to Yanukovych, The New York Times reports that Manafort was secretly earmarked for nearly $13 million in payments from the Yanukovych regime—which was closely allied with Russia and Putin—between 2007 and 2012. The hand-written and recently exposed ledgers suggest that Manafort continued to receive payouts well after Yanukovych had won the election, but anti-corruption investigators are not yet sure if Manafort actually received the payments.
Manafort’s lawyer Richard A. Hibey told the Times that Manafort had not received “any such cash payments.”
What this means for the Trump campaign
This controversy highlights the questionable nature of international consulting that has been a tenet of Manafort’s work since the ‘80s, when he worked with Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos (who implemented martial law and then ousted by the People Power Revolution) and later with other dictatorial leaders in the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Somalia, and more. According to the Times, Manafort continued working after Yanukovych’s removal from office, "helping allies of the ousted president and others form a political bloc that opposed the new pro-Western administration."
While none of Manafort's credentials are ones that an American presidential candidate should be eager to be associated with, Trump has been far from shy about his positive feelings for the Kremlin over the years.
Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow - if so, will he become my new best friend?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2013
Putin has become a big hero in Russia with an all time high popularity. Obama, on the other hand, has fallen to his lowest ever numbers. SAD— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2014
While Trump sings Putin’s praises, it is well-documented that the Kremlin under Putin is responsible for serious human rights violations and has increasingly restricted freedom of expression for government critics and independent media. Putin is broadly considered to be dangerous, and not only does Trump like him, he’s hired the man who helped facilitate increased Russian power in Ukraine to run his presidential campaign. To anyone outside the Trump camp, this doesn’t just look bad—it’s scary. As his client list demonstrates, Manafort doesn’t come on board for just anyone: He picks clients with far-right ideologies who sometimes end up overthrown by the very people they govern.
Manfort provided a statement to NBC News on Monday, in which he adamantly denied receiving secret funds from Ukraine, and denied ever working for the Ukrainian government in the first place:
The simplest answer is the truth: I am a campaign professional. It is well known that I do work in the United States and have done work on overseas campaigns as well. I have never received a single ‘off-the-books cash payment’ as falsely ‘reported’ by the New York Times, nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia.
Manafort added that his work in the Ukraine ended after the country’s parliamentary election of 2014.
In classic Trump fashion, the GOP candidate angrily tweeted at the Times on Sunday, calling the report on the secret ledger (which was found by a Ukrainian anti-corruption entity, not the Times itself), a work of “fiction.”
The failing @nytimes talks about anonymous sources and meetings that never happened. Their reporting is fiction. The media protects Hillary!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2016
Trump’s selection of Manafort, the man who has made a career teaching dictators how to win elections, is a brazen statement about where Trump stands ideologically, and what he’s willing to do to win. Nobody haphazardly hires Paul Manafort. More than anything, Manafort's involvement in a campaign serves as a smoke signal to communicate his client's desperation, and should serve as a serious warning to both the political competition and the people.