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Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena, Sunday, July 17, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Trump's ex-campaign boss reportedly once worked secretly to 'benefit the Putin government'


UPDATE  2:20 p.m. EST:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked during his daily press briefing if President Trump would not have hired Paul Manafort to run his campaign if he had known about the Russian ties.

"I don't know," Spicer responded. During the briefing, he repeatedly said he was not going to harp on what Manafort did with a client "a decade ago."

UPDATE 2:06 p.m. EST:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer dismissed the allegations against Paul Manafort, deflecting with statements of ties between Hillary Clinton associates and Russia. He said Tony Podesta, brother of former Clinton campaign chair John, once lobbied against sanctions against Russia's largest bank. 

His comments appeared to come from a prepared statement.

UPDATE  8:36 a.m. EST:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to comment on the Associated Press report on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

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

ORIGINAL STORY: Paul Manafort, who once held the role of President Trump's campaign manager, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Associated Press reports.

Part of Manafort's plans included an ambitious political strategy to undermine Russian opposition in former Soviet republics. In the past, Manafort and the Trump administration claimed Manafort never worked for Russian interests, though he was tied to pro-Russian Ukrainian groups before resigning.

... This model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success.
2005 memo from Manafort to Oleg Deripaska

Manafort proposed a strategic plan in June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage within the U.S., Europe and former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, AP reports. He collaborated with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally.

Manafort ultimately signed a $10 million annual contract, starting in 2006, with Deripaska. They worked together until at least 2009. 

In a memo to Deripaska in 2005, Manafort wrote that his plan could offer "a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government."

AP obtained strategy memos and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. 

Manafort told the AP that he worked for Deripaska in multiple countries, but his work was being described as "nefarious" as 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."

Deripaska ultimately became one of Russia's wealthiest people and a "fixture of Putin's trips abroad," according to U.S. diplomatic cables.

In this July 17, 2016 photo, Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Manafort worked as Trump's campaign chairman from March 2016 until August. He was asked to resign after the AP revealed he had orchestrated a lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine's pro-Russia ruling party.

Records show Manafort intended to open a Moscow office, but was never opened. It also shows some of his work in Ukraine was not directed by local politicians, but by Deripaska. 

Manafort told Deripaska in 2005 he was pushing policies as part of his work in Ukraine "at the highest levels of the U.S. government" and was employing legal experts for his campaign at leading think tanks and American universities like the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Duke University and New York University. 

Manafort did not use  his public-facing consulting firm, Davis Manafort, for his work in Ukraine. He used a company called LOAV, which he had registered in Delaware in 1992. 

His former business partner, Rick Davis, said he did not know Manafort was working to promote the Russian government, even though "My name was on every piece of stationery used by the company."  

Manafort's work with Deripaska continued for years afterward, though they had a falling out laid bare in 2014 in a Cayman Islands bankruptcy court. The billionaire gave Manafort nearly $19 million to invest in a Ukrainian TV company called Black Sea Cable, according to legal filings by Deripaska's representatives. 

Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, Deripaska's representatives accused Manafort of fraud and pledged to recover the money. After Trump earned the nomination, Deripaska's representatives said they would no longer discuss the case.

Comey 3-20.jpg
FBI Director James Comey, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 20, 2017, before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

An anonymous U.S. official told AP Manafort has been a leading focus of the U.S. intelligence community's investigation into Trump associates and Russia. FBI Director James Comey did not say if Manafort was a target during Monday's congressional hearing.

Both U.S. and Ukrainian officials are trying to question Manafort, Politico reports

"Of all the characters in and around the Trump campaign ...  Paul Manafort's relationships with Russians are by far the longest-standing and deepest," Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) told Politico. 

Serhiy Gorbatyuk of the Ukraine General Prosecutor's Office, said he has asked the U.S. Department of Justice seven times for help with an investigation on Ukraine's former president and Manafort ally Viktor Yanukoyvch.

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