Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman reportedly entangled in an FBI investigation for his possible involvement in Russian election interference, secretly worked for a Putin-allied Russian billionaire to advance Russia's interests abroad, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. Manafort lobbied on behalf of Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaskia for $10 million a year from 2005 to around 2009. Deripaska was known as one Putin's closest allies during that time.
In early November, Manafort told NBC News that he "never had ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin, or had dealings with Putin and his government."
But in 2005, Manafort penned a memo to Deripaska that laid out his plan to prop up Russia's global standing, even though the Eastern European power's relationship with the U.S. was deteriorating at that time.
"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.
Later in the memo, he insisted that his firm "will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government."
In a statement to the AP, Manafort confirmed that he worked for Deripaska in various countries but his contributions were nothing "inappropriate or "nefarious" and that the AP's reporting was just part of a "smear campaign."
"I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments," Manafort said. "My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russian political interests."
According to the AP's reporting, Manafort told a colleague this year that he continues to speak with Trump by telephone.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer provided a statement to NBC News, saying, "It would be inappropriate for us to comment on a person who is not a White House employee." On Monday, Spicer told reporters that Manafort played a "very limited role" in Trump's campaign.
The AP learned that Manafort did not register as a foreign agent for the work he did in the mid-to-late-2000s. Willfully failing to register as a foreign agent is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. While the government rarely pursues criminal charges in these matters, Manafort did go through some lengths to conceal the work he was doing on behalf of Russia. Instead of using his public-facing consulting firm, Manafort used an obscure company, LOAV Ltd., that he had registered in Delaware in 1992, the AP reported.