A series of new revelations about Paul Manafort, the chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, may shed some light on why the Republican nominee decided he had to bring in some new blood. In stories published today by the Associated Press and the Times of London, Manafort’s work for the Moscow-friendly government of Ukraine in the years before it was overthrown is shown to have been more extensive than was originally known, and possibly counter to U.S. interests.
The stories build on a major New York Times revelation from earlier in the week that revealed Manafort’s name appears in a ledger the Ukrainian government believes documents illicit cash payments made by the Party of Regions, the political organization that backed deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort has denied accepting any illicit cash for his work in Ukraine.
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In its report today, The Times of London describes a memo written by a Ukrainian prosecutor who investigated Manafort as determining that “he sabotaged US interests in Ukraine and encouraged Russian nationalism in Crimea.” The story adds:
The senior Ukrainian prosecutor alleges that in 2006 Mr Manafort orchestrated a series of anti-Nato, anti-Kiev protests in Crimea led by Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian Party of Regions — now designated a criminal organisation. The protests forced planned Nato exercises there to be cancelled. No charges were pursued because of a lack of evidence after Crimea was annexed. Mr Manafort did not respond to a request for comment.
The memo says: “It was his political effort to raise the prestige of Yanukovych and his party — the confrontation and division of society on ethnic and linguistic grounds is his trick from the time of the elections in Angola and the Philippines. While I was in the Crimea I constantly saw evidence suggesting that Paul Manafort considered autonomy [from Ukraine] as a tool to enhance the reputation of Yanukovych and win over the local electorate.”
The AP, meanwhile, reports that Manafort appears to have acted as an agent of the Party of Regions within the United States without filing the required disclosures with the Department of Justice -- a crime punishable by jail time and fines.
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According to the AP report, Manafort helped the Party of Regions “secretly route at least $2.2 million in payments to two prominent Washington lobbying firms in 2012, and did so in a way that effectively obscured the foreign political party's efforts to influence U.S. policy.”
Among other things, the two firms were paid to lobby against legislation in the U.S. Congress calling for the release of one of Yanukovych’s political rivals from prison.
While there was no mention of Manafort’s activities in Ukraine in the announcement of a major staff shakeup by the Trump campaign late Tuesday night, the installation of a new campaign manager, pollster Kellyanne Conway, and a new CEO, Breitbart News executive chairman Steve Bannon, appears to be a significant demotion for the man who still retains the title of campaign chairman.
Trump has taken significant criticism for his admiring comments about Russian president Vladimir Putin and for his criticism of NATO. So it would be no surprise if the revelation of Manafort’s questionable dealings with a Kremlin-friendly foreign government and allegations that he helped organize anti-NATO protests in Ukraine spurred the decision to push his campaign chair into the background.