On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort crafted a plan to influence American politics for a Russian billionaire aligned with Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2005. From the AP:
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. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.
"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 in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, "will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government."
According to the AP, Manafort told Deripaska that he and Putin should lobby the United States to allow oligarchs to maintain control of formerly state-owned property in Ukraine and recommended the building of “long-term relationships” with Western journalists. Manafort also boasted to Deripaska that his pro-Putin work in Ukraine included efforts to push pro-Putin policy "at the highest levels of the U.S. government - the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department" and that he had enlisted the aid of a law firm with ties to then-President Bush.
Manafort, who confirmed for the AP that he worked for Deripaska but told the AP that nothing about that work was “inappropriate or nefarious,” reportedly said earlier this year that he still speaks with President Trump by telephone. Manafort’s former business partner Rick Gates, who was not mentioned in the documents the AP reviewed, said he was unaware of the nature of Manafort’s work with Deripaska but told the AP that he was generally aware Manafort had a relationship with him. Gates, who currently runs a pro-Trump nonprofit called America First Policies, has reportedly visited the White House several times and helped plan the inauguration.
Manafort was asked to resign from the Trump campaign in August, after an AP report revealed that he had run a secret lobbying campaign in Washington on the behalf of Ukraine’s pro-Russia ruling party. FBI Director James Comey confirmed this week that the FBI is investigating Trump’s ties to Russia but declined to say if Manafort is a target of that investigation. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the AP "we do not feel it's appropriate to comment on someone who is not an employee at the White House." Another administration official told Fox’s John Roberts the Trump campaign was unaware of Manafort’s work with Deripaska.