Investigators are examining former Trump aide Paul Manafort’s financial ties to Ukraine in hopes of finding some illegality they can use to pressure him to turn on the president.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is examining Manafort’s financial and real estate records in New York as well as his involvement in Ukrainian politics, the officials said.
Between 2006 and 2013, Manafort bought three New York properties, including one in Trump Tower in Manhattan. He paid for them in full and later took out mortgages against them. A former senior U.S. law enforcement official said that tactic is often used as a means to hide the origin of funds gained illegally. Reuters has no independent evidence that Manafort did this.
The sources also did not say whether Mueller has uncovered any evidence to charge Manafort with money laundering, but they said doing so is seen by investigators as critical in getting his full cooperation in their investigation.
“If Mueller’s team can threaten criminal charges against Manafort, they could use that as leverage to convince him to cooperate,” said one of the sources.
Manafort’s spokesman, Jason Maloni, said, “Paul Manafort is not a cooperating witness. Once again there is no truth to the disinformation put forth by anonymous sources and leakers.”
Manafort is seen as a key figure in the investigation because of his senior role in the campaign and his participation in a June 2016 meeting that included the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., close adviser Jared Kushner and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
The meeting was called after the lawyer offered damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Mueller’s team asked the White House on Friday to preserve all of its communications about that meeting. Mueller is examining contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates during and after the Nov. 8 presidential election as part of a broader investigation into whether Russia tried to sway the election in favor of Trump.
Ukrainian politics are as crooked as they come, but that doesn’t mean that Manafort’s dealings were anything but legal. Then again, he was a consultant for Viktor Yanukovych, a notoriously corrupt pro-Russian, anti-Western politician, and made several private business deals with Ukrainian oligarchs who have been robbing the country blind for years.
If Mueller is able to untangle Manafort’s byzantine finances, he is likely to find business deals and money transfers that skirt legality. But that may be enough. All Mueller has to do is threaten to indict Manafort to get his cooperation.
But putting all that aside, just what does Mueller expect Manafort to tell him? Enough to bring down a president? I can’t believe this early in the investigation that Mueller is doing anything except fishing. And it could be a sign that he’s having difficulty finding anything if he’s already trying to turn a key Trump aide.
So at this point, any questions about Manafort’s personal loyalty to Trump don’t need to be asked. But regardless of what, if anything, Mueller is able to get on him, Manafort is walking around with a bullseye on his back.