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Does It Matter if Ukraine’s Pro-Russian Party Gave Manafort Secret Cash?

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Does It Matter if Ukraine’s Pro-Russian Party Gave Manafort Secret Cash?

Documentation is nice, but it doesn’t really surprise anyone; Paul Manafort worked for a Ukrainian political party friendly to Russia for a long time.

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…

Anti-corruption officials there say the payments earmarked for Mr. Manafort, previously unreported, are a focus of their investigation, though they have yet to determine if he actually received the cash. While Mr. Manafort is not a target in the separate inquiry of offshore activities, prosecutors say he must have realized the implications of his financial dealings.

Manafort responds the whole thing is false. If he received official on-the-books payments from political parties, why would they be giving him cash off-the-books, too?

Manafort also insists, “I have never received a single ‘off-the-books cash payment’ as falsely ‘reported’ by The New York Times, nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia.” That last part seems like a bit of a dodge. If someone does work for the Democratic National Committee or Obama for America in 2012, does that mean they can say they’ve never done work for the U.S. government? In both cases, they’re answering to the president, and it seems reasonable to conclude their viewpoints and interests align.

As noted in a Morning Jolt way back in March, the Manafort-Yanukovych relationship stretched on for years.

Manafort’s friends describe his relationship with Yanukovych as a political love connection, born out of Yanukovych’s first downfall when he was driven from power by the 2004 Orange Revolution. Feeling that his domestic political advisers had failed him, Yanukovych turned to a foreign company, Davis Manafort, which was already doing work for the Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. The former Ukrainian PM and Manafort, the Georgetown-educated son of a Connecticut politician, hit it off.

Manafort’s firm had a set of international clients and produced an analysis of the Orange Revolution that Yanukovych found instructive, according to one operative involved in Yanukovych’s political rehabilitation. Manafort became, in effect, a general consultant to Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, shaping big-picture messaging, coaching Yanukovych to speak in punchy, American-style sound bites and managing teams of consultants and attorneys in both Ukraine and the United States ahead of an anticipated Yanukovych comeback. While it’s difficult to track payments in foreign elections, a former associate familiar with Manafort’s earnings say they ran into the seven figures over several years.

After Yanukovych’s 2010 victory, Manafort stayed on as an adviser to the Russia-friendly president and became involved in other business projects in Eastern Europe.

Manafort also declares, “My work in Ukraine ceased following the following the country’s parliamentary elections in October 2014.” Well, yeah, there wasn’t as much he could do for his client after that:

Ukraine’s former President Viktor Yanukovych has said he accepts some responsibility for the killings that led to his overthrow in February 2014.

“I don’t deny my responsibility,” he told BBC Newsnight, when asked about the shooting of demonstrators in Kiev’s Maidan Square.

He never ordered the security forces to open fire, he said, but admitted he had not done enough to prevent bloodshed.

“I did not give any orders [to use firearms], that was not my authority… I was against any use of force, let alone the use of firearms, I was against bloodshed.

“But the members of the security forces fulfilled their duties according to existing laws. They had the right to use weapons,” he said.

More than 100 protesters died in the clashes on Kiev’s central square, where huge crowds had confronted police for months.

A year after the bloodshed some witnesses told the BBC that fatal shots had also been fired at the police.

In February 2014 Mr Yanukovych was whisked away by Russian special forces to a safe haven in Russia.

After years of supporting Ukrainian resistance to Russian threats, the GOP platform suddenly changed this year. We know Manafort’s worldview is considerably friendlier to Vladmir Putin, Russia, and its political allies than the average American foreign policy-maker’s. Is this because of secret cash, past contractual work, or Manafort’s personal definition of American interests? If you see Putin as a threat to American interests, does it really matter?

And if taking money from a foreign interest makes someone unacceptable to be in or near the Oval Office… what about the Clinton Foundation and its millions of dollars from the Saudis, Kuwaitis, state-owned Russian companies, oligarchs, and so on?

Of course, in an ordinary year, an accusation like the one in the Times would be a big deal. This year, it will probably be eclipsed by some new Trump comment by midday. 

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