Earlier this year, Michael Warren wrote about Paul Manafort's involvement with the Trump campaign. From the outset, there were questions about his lobbying for foreign strongmen, particularly his involvement with Viktor Yanukovych and Russian interests in Ukraine. "Manafort was instrumental in remaking Yanukovych's image into that of a pragmatic businessman who could bring order to a divided country (sound familiar?) ahead of Ukraine's 2010 election," wrote Warren.
However, while it was long suspected, evidence is now emerging that Manafort's efforts in Ukraine went well beyond simple political consulting. A New York Times report suggests that Manafort's actions were tainted by corruption:
Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych's pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine's newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials. In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych's inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.
Manafort declined to comment on the secret payments. Vitaliy Kasko, a former Ukrianian senior official with the general prosecutor's office, tells the Times "It would have to be clear to any reasonable person that the Yanukovych clan, when it came to power, was engaged in corruption." However, that's not all. The (London) Times is reporting that Manafort was instrumental in planning activities that created the conditions that led to the Russian annexation of Crimea:
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." Mr Yanukovych laid the groundwork for Russia's annexation of the peninsula, which Donald Trump has now suggested he would recognise.
It was also announced Tuesday morning that while Manafort was retaining his title as Trump campaign chairman, Breitbart News executive chairman Stephen Bannon would become the Trump campaign's new chief executive.