Before Donald Trump’s campaign chairman started working for The Donald, he was a key operative in the corrupt government of Ukrainian President Vickor Yanukovych. A new ledger recently discovered by the country’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau listed $12.7 million in cash payments designated for Paul Manafort, The New York Times reported.
“Paul Manafort is among those names on the list of so-called ‘black accounts of the Party of Regions,’ which the detectives of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine are investigating,” the organization reported in a statement. “We emphasize that the presence of P. Manafort’s name in the list does not mean that he actually got the money, because the signatures that appear in the column of recipients could belong to other people.”
Nevertheless, as the Times reported, handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in cash payments from Yanukovych’s pro-Russian Party of Regions designated for Manafort between 2007 and 2012. “Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.” Criminal prosecutors are also investigating a group of offshore shell companies which helped fund the former president’s lavish lifestyle, which included a palace with a private zoo, golf course, and tennis court.
Manafort did not respond to requests from the Times. His lawyer, Richard A. Hibey, insisted he had not received “any such cash payments” discovered by the anti-corruption officials. He disputed any suggestion that Trump’s campaign chairman might have knowingly engaged in corruption or worked with those involved in illegal activities.
“These are suspicions, and probably heavily politically tinged ones,” Hibey said. “It is difficult to respect any kind of allegation of the sort being made here to smear someone when there is no proof and we deny there ever could be such proof.”
Vitaly Kasko, a former senior official with the general prosecutor’s office in Kiev, insisted otherwise. “He understood what was happening in Ukraine,” Kasko told 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. … It’s impossible to imagine a person would look at this and think ‘Everything is all right.'”
Yanukovych’s party relied heavily on Manafort’s advice to win multiple elections, before the former president fled to Russia in 2014. During that period, Manafort never registered as a foreign agent with the United States Justice Department, which is required of those seeking to influence American policy on behalf of foreign clients. Had Manafort only advised the Party of Regions in Ukraine, he may not have needed to register, but he also burnished Yanukovych’s image in the West.
Without such a registration, Manafort’s compensation remained a mystery, but these new documents — known in Ukraine as the “black ledger” — seem to reveal how handsomely the political consultant was paid. The ledger consists of 400 pages of “chicken-scratch” Cyrillic kept in a room in the former Party of Regions headquarters in Kiev. Manafort’s name appears in the ledger 22 times over five years, with payments totaling $12.7 million, according to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau.
The room also held two safes stuffed with $100 bills, which reportedly were used for all sorts of occasions. “This was our cash,” said former party leader Taras V. Chornovil. “They had it on the table, stacks of money, and they had lists of who to pay.” He recalled receiving a “wad of cash” totaling $10,000 for a trip to Europe.
While there are no bank records corroborating Manafort’s receipt of the $12.7 million, his alleged involvement in off-shore businesses might explain how the money eventually reached his pocketbook.
Next Page: Why this matters for the 2016 presidential election, and why Hillary’s Russia connections are arguably even worse.
In a fascinating turn of events, Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski tweeted out the New York Times story, a potential attack against the man who replaced him at The Donald’s right hand.
Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Donald Trump’s Campaign Chief https://t.co/7bh7iIHHaY
— Corey Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) August 15, 2016
Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election has been suspected in a variety of ways: from the possibility of Putin’s government owning Hillary Clinton’s emails and being able to blackmail her, to Trump’s insistence that Russia release those very emails.
Both major party candidates have unsettling connections with the country: Clinton’s State Department and the Clinton Foundation seemingly worked together to reward donors and allow a Russian company to purchase huge Uranium stockpiles, and Trump’s campaign manager’s connection to Yanukovych (a pro-Russian Ukrainian president) is well-known.
Of these two shady connections, it could be argued that Clinton’s is worse, as it demonstrates an unscrupulous pay-for-play mentality of rewarding Clinton Foundation donors with deals that could shift the balance of nuclear power and nuclear weapons in Russia’s favor. It could be argued that Trump merely intended to hire the best, and despite Manafort’s unscrupulous history, he certainly is one of the most accomplished political manipulators.
Even if The Donald’s Russia connections are less bad than Hillary’s, these revelations about his campaign chairman are still unsettling. If Trump were to win the presidency, would his leadership be just as corrupt as Yanukovych’s was in Russia? If The Donald’s business dealings are any hint, the answer may be an emphatic yes.