Given the Russia hysteria that gripped the internet earlier this year, you would have thought that a Washington Post headline of “Manafort offered to give Russian billionaire ‘private briefings’ on 2016 campaign” would have melted Twitter’s servers a couple weeks back, but each boom! in this saga seems to make less and less of a splash—even as the tangible legal evidence of malfeasance sits at its highest point yet.
A federal judge approved a warrant to place Paul Manafort—Trump’s former campaign manager—under surveillance. Twice. That we know of. That’s a big freaking deal. Had this been revealed back in April, Louise Mensch would have already won the popular vote in our new election. Now? An e-mail from Manafort to longtime client Oleg Deripaska elicited moderate excitement before receding into the graveyard of 15 famed minutes. Oh, by the way—Deripaska told the Financial Times in 2007 that “I don’t separate myself from the [Russian] state. I have no other interests.” No biggie.
For those still interested in how deep Russian meddling penetrated American systems, more Manafort e-mails just leaked to The Atlantic, and they provide additional context to WaPo’s leak from two weeks ago. They reported that Manafort sent an e-mail to an intermediary which read, “If [Deripaska] needs private briefings we can accommodate.” That was an excerpt, The Atlantic now has the full text of these exchanges. Per Julia Ioffe and Franklin Foer:
On the evening of April 11, 2016, two weeks after Donald Trump hired the political consultant Paul Manafort to lead his campaign’s efforts to wrangle Republican delegates, Manafort emailed his old lieutenant Konstantin Kilimnik, who had worked for him for a decade in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.
“I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?” Manafort wrote.
“Absolutely,” Kilimnik responded a few hours later from Kiev. “Every article.”
“How do we use to get whole,” Manafort asks. “Has OVD operation seen?”
According to a source close to Manafort, the initials “OVD” refer to Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and one of Russia’s richest men. The source also confirmed that one of the individuals repeatedly mentioned in the email exchange as an intermediary to Deripaska is an aide to the oligarch.
“How do we use to get whole” sure sounds like a reference to settling debts. Later in the report:
“Yes, I have been sending everything to Victor, who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD,” Kilimnik responded in April, referring again to Deripaska. (“Victor” is a Deripaska aide, the source close to Manafort confirmed.) “Frankly, the coverage has been much better than Trump’s,” Kilimnik wrote. “In any case it will hugely enhance your reputation no matter what happens.”
By the end of April, Manafort was vying for control of the Trump campaign, and was named its chairman on May 19. On July 7, two weeks before Trump accepted the Republican nomination, Manafort again wrote to Kilimnik. He forwarded questions he’d received from a reporter for the English-language Kyiv Post about Black Sea Cable—the sole investment made by the venture. Manafort asked Kilimnik, “Is there any movement on this issue with our friend?” Manafort seemed concerned about whether the journalist’s probing had caught the attention of Deripaska. A source close to Manafort confirmed to me that “our friend” indeed referred to the Russian oligarch. Kilimnik did not respond to requests for comment.
“I am carefully optimistic on the issue of our biggest interest,” Kilimnik went on. “Our friend V said there is lately significantly more attention to the campaign in his boss’s mind, and he will be most likely looking for ways to reach out to you pretty soon, understanding all the time sensitivity. I am more than sure that it will be resolved and we will get back to the original relationship with V.’s boss.” The source close to Manafort confirmed that “V” is a reference to Victor, the Deripaska aide.
If you’re still skeptical of Manafort’s involvement, there are plenty more examples in this report around Manafort’s e-mails that reflect a desire for Deripaska to be aware of his efforts. Given the amount of warrants, subpoenas and grand juries flying around Washington D.C. right now, I’m willing to bet that this won’t be the last time we hear about Paul Manafort’s e-mails regarding a Russian oligarch/Putin ally who sued Manafort in a Cayman Islands court to recover $19 million that Manafort allegedly stole from him. There’s no evidence (yet) that Manafort had the meetings that he was seeking with his former client, but the motive to schedule them has clearly been demonstrated in these e-mails.
Motive. This is the defining narrative of these stories which have emerged in the wake of Robert Mueller’s raid of Manafort’s home back in July. Financial records filed in Cyprus in 2015 show Manafort in debt for around $16 million to shell companies connected to pro-Russian interests in Ukraine (keep that figure in mind). Manafort’s attorney said that it was actually Manafort who was owed money, and Deripaska’s lawyer pushed back on that assertion to The Atlantic:
“The suggestion that Mr. Deripaska owes money to Mr. Manafort is absurd. Except for the contents of these emails, Mr. Manafort has never made any such claim. To the contrary, as set out in widely reported court filings, it is Mr. Manafort who has failed to provide any accounting in respect of investments for which he was responsible. Mr. Manafort is the debtor here, not the creditor.”
Manafort worked for free for Trump, then took out $16 million (!!) in loans against his New York properties later this year. Those loans are under investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney and New York Attorney General. Frankly, it’s hard to find a part of Manafort’s life that isn’t under investigation right now. Robert Mueller is reaching 11 years back into his finances, and for what it’s worth, Manafort purchased an apartment in Trump Tower for $3.7 million in 2006—11 years ago.
Manafort’s motive to work with those close to Putin isn’t just confined to the 2016 campaign either. The AP reported that Manafort pitched a plan that would “greatly benefit the Putin Government,” in 2005. Want to take a wild guess as to who he pitched it to? Bingo: Oleg Deripaska. That same Oleg Deripaska who requested immunity earlier this year. Buckle up folks, Paul Manafort is about to take us on a wild tour of our crumbling democracy.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.