Despite denials by Donald Trump and his campaign throughout 2016 that Trump, or anyone connected to him, had ties to Russia, the man at the top of Trump’s campaign had actually taken a whopping $60 million from a top Russian billionaire industrialist known as the “favorite” of Russian President Vladimir Putin, an NBC News report revealed on Friday.
In fact, Paul Manafort, who ran the Trump campaign from June until August of 2016, when he was forced to resign over questions about his Russia ties, was under FBI criminal investigation for his Russia ties when Trump hired him as campaign manager, and had been under investigation since 2014. The investigation focused on Manafort’s political consulting work for Ukraine’s deposed pro-Russia strongman, Viktor Yanukovich.
Manafort has since become a central focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Trump and Russia in the 2016 campaign. Justice Department agents, under Mueller’s direction, searched Manafort’s home on July 26 in a pre-dawn “no knock” raid, and reportedly Mueller has told Manafort that he will be criminally indicted in the investigation.
On Friday, NBC reported that over the past decade, Manafort has been so closely tied to a Putin-connected Russian billionaire that the oligarch, metals magnate Oleg Deripaska, transferred a whopping $60 million into Manafort’s coffers over the past decade — payments made in the form of “loans” that may never have been repaid.
Whether or not the loans were ever repaid remains unknown. A spokesperson for Manafort said only that the former Trump campaign chief does not owe any money to his “former clients.”
“Money launderers frequently will disguise payments as loans,” former federal prosecutor Stefan Cassella told NBC News. “You can call it a loan, you can call it Mary Jane. If there’s no intent to repay it, then it’s not really a loan. It’s just a payment.”
Deripaska, 49, made his fortune in the metals industry and now controls a business empire that employs 200,000 people worldwide. The Russian oligarch has a personal fortune estimated at $5.1 billion, according to a profile in Newsweek magazine, which also said that Deripaska is considered Putin’s “favorite” industrialist.
But that business empire was launched in 2008 when Deripaska took over and revitalized the nearly bankrupt Russian aluminum manufacturer Rural — possibly, according to some experts, with the help of a massive Kremlin-arranged bailout, the Newsweek profile reported. Deripaska himself says that he succeeded simply by his skill in managing the company out of its crushing debts.
The $60 million figure is $26 million more than was previously believed to have changed hands from Deripaska to Manafort, after NBC discovered that Manafort had received a previously undetected loan in that amount from a company controlled by Deripaska.
Even though Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign in August of 2016, he continued to advise the Trump team on how to deal with the ongoing investigation into Trump’s Russia ties and possible collusion between Trump and Russia to influence last year’s presidential election, according to a report by Politico.
In fact, according to the Politico report, Manafort phoned Trump’s now-former Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, just a week before Trump’s inauguration. The purpose of the call was to advise the Trump team on how to respond to the then-newly released “Steele Dossier,” the private intelligence document best known for the infamous Trump “pee tape” story — but which also contains allegations of deep financial ties between Trump and Russia.
On Friday, Mueller grilled Priebus in what has been described as a “full day” interview, according to a Washington Post report. The topics discussed in the lengthy exchange between Mueller and Priebus have not been revealed publicly, but likely included the advice given by Manafort to Priebus in January, as well as numerous other topics, such as Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, who, prior to Mueller, was leading the Trump-Russia investigation.
[Featured Image by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images]