Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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From Russia With Manipulation: Trump to Bring back Putin’s Pawn Paul Manafort

Senate Report Warned Manafort Was "Grave Counterintelligence Threat" With Ties to Russian Spies.

ABC/ Ida Mae Astute

In a stunning development, The Washington Post is reporting that former President Donald Trump is pushing to bring back his disgraced former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, as a campaign advisor for his 2024 presidential bid. This move is alarming given Manafort’s deep ties to Putin and his status as a convicted felon who served time in prison for tax and bank fraud.

Manafort, a longtime Republican operative known for his lobbying work on behalf of foreign dictators, played a crucial role in Trump’s 2016 campaign. However, he resigned amid revelations that he had received millions of dollars in secret payments from pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. Despite this, Trump remained loyal to Manafort, even pardoning him in the final days of his presidency.

Now, as Trump gears up for another run at the White House, he appears determined to bring Manafort back into the fold. Manafort is likely to play a significant role in fundraising and advising the campaign, particularly around the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee this July.

This decision is not just a matter of poor optics or questionable judgment. It raises serious national security concerns, given Manafort’s extensive ties to Russia and his alleged role as a key link between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 election.

“Grave Counterintelligence Threat”

A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report released in 2020 labeled Manafort a “grave counterintelligence threat”. And it said it’s possible that he served as a conduit between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence services. The report detailed Manafort’s close relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian national with ties to Russian intelligence, and revealed that Manafort had shared internal campaign polling data with Kilimnik during the 2016 race.

Konstantin Kilimnik
Konstantin Kilimnik on far left (2006)

Even more damning, the Senate report raised the possibility that Manafort was connected to the Russian hacking and leaking of Democratic emails, which was designed to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign and boost Trump’s chances of victory. This revelation alone should disqualify Manafort from ever working on another presidential campaign, let alone serving as a top adviser to a former president seeking to regain power. And with all the information we now have on Manafort, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that he may be a Russian asset working on behalf of Vladimir Putin.

But Trump, who has a long history of embracing conspiracy theories and dismissing Russian interference as a “hoax,” seems undeterred by the mountain of evidence against Manafort. In fact, he has repeatedly complained that the prosecution of Manafort was unfair and politically motivated, even though Manafort was convicted by a jury of his peers and sentenced to more than seven years in prison.

Trump’s loyalty to Manafort is not just misguided; it is a direct threat to our democracy. By bringing Manafort back into his inner circle, Trump is sending an obvious message that he has no qualms about associating with compromised individuals with ties to foreign adversaries who have actively worked to undermine the integrity of our elections.

An Ally For Russian Oligarchs

Manafort’s ties to Russia go back decades, running a multi-million dollar influence campaign on behalf of Russian interests in various countries around the world. By 2005, Manafort had established strong connections with two prominent oligarchs in the former Soviet bloc.

The first oligarch was Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate with close ties to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. The second oligarch was Rinat Akhmetov, the wealthiest man in Ukraine, with an estimated net worth exceeding $12 billion. At Akhmetov’s behest, Manafort agreed to orchestrate a political comeback for Viktor Yanukovych, a former coal trucking director who had previously lost a presidential bid in 2004 and had a checkered past, including two assault convictions.

Oleg Deripaska
Oleg Deripaska in 2015 (WEF/Remy Steinegger)

Federal prosecutors described Akhmetov and several other oligarchs supporting Yanukovych as Manafort’s “golden goose.” To manage operations on the ground in Kyiv, Manafort relied on Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian citizen alleged by prosecutors to have ties to Russian intelligence. 

In 2010, the year Yanukovych successfully secured the Ukrainian presidency, Manafort expressed his gratitude for the “unexpected generosity” in an email to Yanukovych with the subject line “bonuses.”

Between 2010 and 2014, prosecutors alleged Manafort received over $60 million from his Ukrainian benefactors, much of which he concealed in secret foreign bank accounts under the names of at least 15 shell companies. 

According to testimony from Manafort’s former business partner, Rick Gates, he assisted Manafort in concealing his true income by hiding foreign bank accounts from his accountants. And he helped disguise several million dollars in income as nontaxable loans from companies secretly controlled by Manafort.

Manafort’s relationship with Kilimnik, whom the Senate report identified as a Russian intelligence officer, was particularly troubling. The two men maintained a close partnership for years, even after Manafort joined the Trump campaign. They communicated using encrypted messaging apps and other secretive means, so it’s possible Manafort got away with many more crimes by covering his tracks.

Perhaps most disturbingly, Manafort and Kilimnik allegedly worked together to spread disinformation that sought to blame Ukraine, rather than Russia, for interfering in the 2016 election. This false narrative, which U.S. intelligence agencies debunked, was part of a broader effort by Russia to sow confusion and undermine faith in American democracy.

Active Threat To Democracy

Given this history, it is unconscionable that Trump would even consider bringing Manafort back into his orbit. But then again, this is the same man who has repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin, sided with Russia over his country, and invited foreign interference in our elections. 

The prospect of Paul Manafort returning as a top advisor to Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign is a chilling reminder of the former president’s disregard for democratic norms and national security. By embracing a convicted felon with extensive ties to Russian intelligence, Trump is signaling that he is willing to collaborate with Russia again to win an election. 

This reckless decision not only casts doubt on Trump’s fitness for office but also underscores the Republican Party’s descent into a cult of personality that puts partisan interests ahead of the nation’s well-being. Many GOP leaders who once condemned Manafort’s actions and called for his prosecution have now fallen silent or even defended him, out of fealty to Trump.

The 2024 campaign will be a defining moment for the future of our republic, and we cannot allow individuals like Manafort, who have so brazenly betrayed the public trust, to play any role in shaping that future. The American people deserve better than that.