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AP: Former Trump Campaign Chairman Manafort Proposed Plan To Benefit Putin

RFE/RL March 22, 2017

The Associated Press is reporting that Paul Manafort, U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, secretly proposed a political strategy to benefit Russian President Vladimir Putin and undermine his opponents.

Citing several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records it obtained, the AP report on March 22 said that the American businessman proposed the plan to Oleg Deripaska, a Kremlin-connected Russian tycoon, as early as June 2005.

It said the proposed plan was aimed at influencing politics, business dealings, and news coverage across the United States, Europe, and the former Soviet Union in ways that would favor Putin.

Manafort eventually signed a contract worth $10 million with Deripaska and had a business relationship with him until at least 2009, AP said.

The report appears to contradict earlier statements by the Trump administration, and Manafort himself, that he had never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort, who resigned in August 2016 following allegations of contacts with Russian intelligence officials and of illicit payments related to his previous work for Russia-friendly former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's political party, confirmed to AP that he worked for Deripaska.

But he said that the work "did not involve representing Russian political interests" and was being unfairly depicted as "inappropriate or nefarious" as part of a "smear campaign."

In a statement to the news agency, Manafort said that he represented Deripaska almost a decade ago "on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments."

AP said that a spokesman for Deripaska in Moscow declined to answer questions on Manafort, though it added that in 2008 a company spokesman said the magnate had never hired Manafort's firm.

AP cited a U.S. official as saying on condition of anonymity that Manafort has been a leading focus of a U.S. intelligence investigation in the United States of the relationship Trump and his associates have had with Russia.

FBI Director James Comey declined to name Manafort as a target of the investigation during a hearing in Congress this week, while White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on March 20 that Manafort "played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time" in the election campaign.

When asked by NBC News on March 22 about the AP report, Spicer refused to discuss Manafort further.

"It would be inappropriate for us to comment on a person who is not a White House employee," Spicer said.

With reporting by AP

Source: http://www.rferl.org/a/associated- press-manafort-trump-plan-to- benefit-putin/28384374.html

Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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