So the big story in The New York Times this morning is that Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, long-time Republican operative Paul Manafort, was apparently very well-compensated for all the political consulting he did for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych a few years back:
And Mr. Manafort’s presence remains elsewhere here in the capital, where government investigators examining secret records have found his name, as well as companies he sought business with, as they try to untangle a corrupt network they say was used to loot Ukrainian assets and influence elections during the administration of Mr. Manafort’s main client, former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.
Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.
In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.
There’s some seamy stuff in there for which Manafort may have to answer some uncomfortable questions, like whether he knowingly participated in efforts to funnel public money out of Ukraine’s treasury and into the pockets of foreign oligarchs, whether he paid taxes on whatever Yanukovych paid him, whether or not he properly registered with the DOJ as a foreign agent while this was all going on, and, for that matter, whether or not he’s still working for elements of Yanukovych’s old Party of Regions (which reorganized into a couple of opposition parties after Yanukovych was ousted) even now while he’s chairing Trump’s campaign. Manafort denies that he received any of these payments, which I guess means that Yanukovych’s accountant was just fond of scribbling his name into ledgers for shits and giggles. And, to be fair, nobody has video of Manafort accepting a big burlap sack from Boris Badenov with a giant dollar sign printed on the side, so there’s no conclusive proof that he got that money. Manafort also says that his involvement with Party of Regions ended in 2014, when the party broke up.
It’s getting harder to simply dismiss the conspiracy theory about Trump’s campaign having some connection, unwitting or otherwise, to Putin. I was all set to downplay this report, particularly insofar as most of the people citing it keep referring to Yanukovych as “pro-Russian” in order to maximize how sinister it all seems, when that’s really an unhelpful oversimplification of the policies he tried to pursue while in office (if Yanukovych were simply “pro-Russian,” he wouldn’t have spent three years, give or take, trying to negotiate an economic relationship with the EU at the risk of pissing Putin off). Manafort, now that you mention it, has been saying that his work in Ukraine was intended to bring Kiev closer to the EU, which, if true (a big if, granted), would hardly have been the work of a guy on Putin’s payroll. But the link to Deripaska, a billionaire who’s been suggested on multiple occasions of having ties to Russian organized crime and who definitely has ties to Putin, is a big deal. Deripaska seems to have put a lot of money into an investment fund that Manafort co-founded, and that was linked to a shell company allegedly used by Yanukovych and his pals to pilfer money from the Ukrainian treasury: Continue reading