Josh Rogin at the Washington Post asks “Why is Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort denying that his staff worked to keep the Republican platform from supporting U.S. weapons deliveries to Ukraine?” The Trump campaign denies its own Ukraine policy:
His claims about the episode contradict not only the facts, but also the candidate’s long-standing position on the issue. He would be better off just owning it.
On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” Manafort said that the effort to keep the platform from supporting arms for Ukraine, which I first reported last month, “absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign.”
“So nobody from the Trump campaign wanted that change in the platform?” Chuck Todd pressed. “No one, zero,” Manafort said.
In fact, there were two Trump campaign staffers in the room when a committee of GOP delegates debated the national security platform the week before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The original platform draft was silent on the issue of arming Ukraine until Diana Denman, a pro-Ted Cruz delegate from Texas, introduced an amendment proposing extensive support for Ukraine, including “lethal defensive weapons.”
The Trump staffers in the room, who were not delegates but were there to oversee the process, intervened and were able to get the issue tabled. On the sideline of the meeting, they negotiated with Denman to find a compromise but were unsuccessful. Eventually, through the pro-Trump delegates, they introduced a new amendment that changed the language from “lethal defensive weapons” to “appropriate assistance.”
That amendment passed, codifying the Trump staff’s language as official GOP policy. In an interview with ABC on Sunday, Trump confirmed that his people were behind the change.
“They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved,” Trump said. He then went on to say that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not “go into Ukraine,” seeming not to realize that Russian troops intervened both in Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014 and remain there to this day. Donald Trump Gives Questionable Explanation of Events in Ukraine:
“He’s not going into Ukraine, O.K., just so you understand,” Mr. Trump, the Republican nominee, said when the issue came up. “He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want.”
“Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?” Mr. Stephanopoulos interrupted.
“O.K., well, he’s there in a certain way,” Mr. Trump replied.
Wow. That’s the kind of thing that doomed Gerald Ford in 1976 when during a debate he said “There is no Soviet domination of eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration” (seemingly unaware of the Warsaw Pact and the “Iron Curtain”).
So why did Manafort bother to deny on Sunday that the campaign was involved in the platform change? . . . Manafort’s initial instinct is to just deny everything and blame the Clinton campaign and the press.
Manafort is attempting to sow doubt about what happened with the GOP platform’s Ukraine language, even though he must know that he is intentionally misleading the press and the public.
Another possible explanation is that the Trump campaign is now trying to pull back from its long-held pro-Russian positions. Manafort has faced increased criticism for his years of work as a lobbyist for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. And Trump’s sympathetic attitude toward Putin looks less politically viable as more evidence emerges about the Russian government’s involvement in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other U.S. political institutions.
More about this shady character Manafort. How Paul Manafort Wielded Power in Ukraine Before Advising Donald Trump>:
Few political consultants have had a client fail quite as spectacularly as Paul Manafort’s did in Ukraine in the winter of 2014.
President Viktor F. Yanukovych, who owed his election to, as an American diplomat put it, an “extreme makeover” Mr. Manafort oversaw, bolted the country in the face of violent street protests. He found sanctuary in Russia and never returned, as his patron, President Vladimir V. Putin, proceeded to dismember Ukraine, annexing Crimea and fomenting a war in two other provinces that continues.
Mr. Manafort was undaunted.
Within months of his client’s political demise, he went to work seeking to bring his disgraced party back to power, much as he had Mr. Yanukovych himself nearly a decade earlier. Mr. Manafort has already had some success, with former Yanukovych loyalists — and some Communists — forming a new bloc opposing Ukraine’s struggling pro-Western government.
And now Mr. Manafort has taken on a much larger campaign, seeking to turn Donald J. Trump into a winning presidential candidate.
With Mr. Putin’s Russia, and its interference in Ukraine, becoming a focus of the United States presidential campaign, Mr. Manafort’s work in Ukraine has come under scrutiny — along with his business dealings with prominent Ukrainian and Russian tycoons.
After disclosures of a breach of the Democratic National Committee’s emails — which American intelligence officials have linked to Russian spies — both men are facing sharp criticism over what is seen as an unusually sympathetic view of Mr. Putin and his policies toward Ukraine. That view has upended decades of party orthodoxy toward Russia, a country that the previous Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, called “our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”
On Sunday, Mr. Trump even echoed Mr. Putin’s justification of the annexation of Crimea, saying the majority of people in the region wanted to be part of Russia, remarks that were prominently featured on state news channels in Moscow.
It is far from certain that Mr. Manafort’s views have directly shaped Mr. Trump’s, since Mr. Trump spoke favorably of Mr. Putin’s leadership before Mr. Manafort joined the campaign. But it is clear that the two have a shared view of Russia and neighbors like Ukraine — an affection, even — that, in Mr. Manafort’s case, has been shaped by years of business dealings as much as by any policy or ideology.
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Until he joined Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign this year, Mr. Manafort’s work in Ukraine had been his most significant political campaign in recent years. He began his career in Republican politics in the 1970s and extended it overseas to advising authoritarian leaders, including Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Mr. Yanukovych.
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A review of his work in Ukraine shows how politics and business converged in a country still struggling to function as a democracy, a quarter of a century after it had gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In that world in flux, Mr. Manafort’s political strategy had echoes of Mr. Trump’s populist campaign.
Mr. Manafort’s influence in the country was significant, and his political expertise deeply valued, according to Ukrainian politicians and officials who worked with him. He also had a voice in decisions about major American investments in Ukraine, said a former spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, Oleg Voloshyn, who also ran as a candidate in the new bloc Mr. Manafort helped form.
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Mr. Manafort began working in Ukraine after the popular uprising in the winter of 2004-5 that became known as the Orange Revolution. Mr. Yanukovych, then prime minister, was declared the winner of a presidential election in 2004 that was marred by fraud and overturned by the country’s highest court after weeks of protests in favor of his pro-Western rival, Viktor A. Yushchenko.
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Mr. Manafort had begun working for one of Ukraine’s richest men, Rinat Akhmetov, to improve the image of his companies. Mr. Akhmetov was also a prominent sponsor of Mr. Yanukovych’s party, the Party of Regions, and he introduced the two men.
With Mr. Manafort’s advice, Mr. Yanukovych began a comeback, with the Party of Regions winning the biggest bloc in parliamentary elections in 2006 and again in 2007, returning him to the post of prime minister. At the time, Mr. Manafort called Mr. Yanukovych, a former coal trucking director who was twice convicted of assault as a young man, an outstanding leader who had been badly misunderstood in the West.
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During this time, lucrative side deals opened for Mr. Manafort.
In 2008, he and the developer Arthur G. Cohen negotiated a deal to buy the site of the Drake Hotel on Park Avenue in Manhattan. One partner was Dmytro Firtash, an oligarch who made billions as a middleman for Gazprom, the Russian natural gas giant, and who was known for funneling the money into the campaigns of pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, including Mr. Yanukovych. The three men intended to reopen the site as a mall and spa called Bulgari Tower, according to a lawsuit filed in Manhattan by Yulia V. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister of Ukraine. In the end, though, the project unraveled.
A separate deal also funneled Russian-linked oligarchic money into Ukraine. In 2007, Mr. Manafort and two partners, Rick Gates and Rick Davis, set up a private equity company in the Cayman Islands to buy assets in Ukraine, and invited the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to invest, according to a court filing. Mr. Deripaska agreed to pay a 2 percent annual management fee to Mr. Manafort and his partners, and put $100 million into the fund, which bought a cable television station in the Black Sea port of Odessa, Ukraine, before the agreement unraveled in disagreements over auditing and Mr. Deripaska sued Mr. Manafort. The case is still pending.
By 2010, Mr. Yanukovych’s revival was complete. He had won a presidential campaign against Ms. Tymoshenko, who was convicted of abuse of office and sent to prison.
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Mr. Manafort pressed Mr. Yanukovych to sign an agreement with the European Union that would link the country closer to the West — and lobbied for the Americans to support Ukraine’s membership, as well, despite deep reservations because of the prosecution of Ms. Tymoshenko.
Mr. Manafort helped draft a report defending the prosecution that Mr. Yanukovych’s government commissioned from the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in 2012.
Mr. Manafort’s role was disclosed after a document was discovered in a box in a sauna belonging to a former senior Ukrainian official. Other documents in that cache are now evidence in a criminal case against a former justice official, and could shed more light on Mr. Manafort’s role.
Ultimately Mr. Yanukovych disregarded Mr. Manafort’s advice and refused to sign the trade agreement, which Mr. Putin vehemently opposed. Mr. Yanukovych’s decision led to the protests that culminated in two nights of violence in February 2014 and Mr. Yanukovych’s flight.
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When the government of President Petro O. Poroshenko called snap parliamentary elections for October 2014, just eight months later, Mr. Manafort rallied the dispirited remnants of Mr. Yanukovych’s party.
He was now on the payroll of Mr. Yanukovych’s former chief of staff, Serhiy Lyovochkin. Mr. Manafort flew to Ukraine in September 2014 and set to work rebranding a party deeply fractured by the violence and by Russia’s intervention.
Rather than try to resurrect the disgraced party, he supported pitching a bigger political tent to help his clients and, he argued, to help stabilize Ukraine. The new bloc would woo everyone in the country angry at the new Western-backed government.
It was Mr. Manafort who had argued for a new name for the movement — the Opposition Bloc, or Oppo Bloc, as it was called. “He thought to gather the largest number of people opposed to the current government, you needed to avoid anything concrete, and just become a symbol of being opposed,” recalled Mikhail B. Pogrebinsky, a political analyst in Kiev.
The strategy worked. Under the new name, the Party of Regions kept a foothold in Parliament. Its new bloc now has 43 members in the 450-seat chamber.
It is not clear that Mr. Manafort’s work in Ukraine ended with his work with Mr. Trump’s campaign. A communications aide for Mr. Lyovochkin, who financed Mr. Manafort’s work, declined to say whether he was still on retainer or how much he had been paid.
Mr. Manafort has not registered as a lobbyist representing Ukraine, which would require disclosing his earnings, though at least one company he subcontracted, the public relations firm Edelman, did in 2008. It received a retainer of $35,000 a month to promote Mr. Yanukovych’s efforts as prime minister “toward making Ukraine a more democratic country.”
For the Republican Party, where many still revere the notorious red baiter Sen. Joseph McCarthy (just ask Ann Coulter), this has to make them squirm. And how ironic is it that “During the 1992 campaign, some right-wingers whispered that Bill Clinton was a Manchurian candidate who had been brainwashed by the Russians when he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford and took a student trip to Moscow.” Here Come the Crazy Clinton Conspiracies of the 1990s. Remember that? What goes around comes around.
The Paul Manafort and Donald Trump connections to Russia actually do have legs. Despite denial, Trump’s connections to Russia go back years:
While the Republican presidential nominee has denied any ties to Russia, his connections to the country and its president go back years. Trump has talked about Russia being a hot business climate, and he has been trying to bring his brand to Moscow for decades, reports CBS News correspondent Julianna Goldman.
Most Americans might not know Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, but at the end of a 2013 music video is a scene that looks very familiar: a cameo from Trump sitting in a boardroom.
“What’s wrong with you, Emin?” Trump asks in the video. “I’m really tired of you. You’re fired!”
Agalarov is the son of Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov, a Vladimir Putin ally who is worth, according to Forbes, $1.3 billion.
The Agalarovs run the Crocus Group, a Russian real estate development firm that helped bring Trump’s Miss Universe pageant to Moscow.
“You look at what’s going on in Russia, in Moscow, you look at how it’s just booming and how well it does,” Trump said in November 2013.
The 2013 pageant remains Trump’s most successful venture in Russia. When he returned to the U.S., he said he had a relationship with Putin.
“I spoke indirectly and directly with President Putin, who could not have been nicer,” Trump said during a National Press Club luncheon in May 2014.
Nearly three years later, Trump changed his tune.
“I’ve never met Putin. I don’t know who Putin is,” Trump said Wednesday during a campaign event in Florida.
Over the last decade, the tycoon has had at least three potential real estate developments in Russia, but those plans never got off the ground. In a 2007 deposition, he spoke about plans for a Trump International hotel in Moscow and meetings with Russian businessmen.
“It’s ridiculous that I wouldn’t be investing in Russia,” Trump said in the deposition. “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment.”
On Wednesday, however, he denied having business dealings there: “I will tell you right now, zero. I have nothing to do with Russia.”
But Russians have bought Trump condominiums and partnered in Trump developments in Manhattan and Fort Lauderdale. Those deals were partially financed by the Bayrock Group, which has connections to private Russian money.
The Washington Post adds, Here’s what we know about Donald Trump and his ties to Russia:
Q: What about investments from Russia in Trump’s businesses?
A. There is strong evidence that Trump’s businesses have received significant funding from Russian investors. Most notably, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. made that very claim at a real estate conference in New York in 2008, saying “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” Donald Trump Jr. added, “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
Trump also made millions when he agreed to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013, a deal financed in part by the development company of a Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov. Agalarov is a Putin ally who is sometimes called the “Trump of Russia” because of his tendency to put his own name on his buildings. At the time, Trump mingled with the Russian business elite at a swanky after-party. “Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room,” Trump bragged on returning home.
As a sign of the importance of Russian investors, partners of one of Trump’s projects then under construction in Panama visited Moscow to sell condos at the building in 2006.
Trump also made significant money from one Russian oligarch in 2008, when he sold a mansion in Palm Beach for $95 million to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev. Trump had bought the home at a bankruptcy auction less than four years earlier for $41.4 million.
* * *
Q: What about Trump’s advisers?
A: They too have financial ties in Russia. His campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, managed an investment fund for a Russian aluminum magnate with close ties to Putin. (The oligarch is suing Manafort, claiming, according to litigation in the Cayman Islands, that Manafort disappeared with $19 million.)
Manafort also unsuccessfully attempted a multimillion-dollar real estate project in New York City with funds from a Ukranian energy tycoon. And he worked as an adviser to the Putin-backed Ukranian president whose 2014 ouster sparked Russian intervention in that country, which has been opposed by U.S. officials in both parties.
Trump also considered retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his vice-presidential running mate. Flynn has argued that the United States needs stronger ties to Russia to fight Islamist terrorism. In 2015 , Flynn attended a dinner honoring the Kremlin-aligned English language media company RT, where he sat near Putin.
Another Trump foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, once ran the Moscow office of Merrill Lynch and advised the state-run conglomerate Gazprom. He has spoken publicly about the possibility that a Trump presidency could result in the lifting of Ukraine-related sanctions on Russia that would help the business interests of some of his Russian contacts.
It’s way past time for reporters to follow the money.