It can be dizzying to try to follow the ins and outs of the so-called #TrumpRussia scandal, and trying to understand Paul Manafort’s business dealings is no exception. I won’t try to explain it all here, but it looks like Manafort’s life just got more complicated because the Associated Press obtained some banking records that verify that something is true that Manafort has long denied.
You may remember that Manafort stepped down as chairman of the Trump campaign after it was revealed that a black ledger detailing financial transactions had been unearthed in Kiev. You can re-read the article the New York Times published on August 14th, 2016. Manafort resigned on August 19th.
The original reporting was fairly straightforward:
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.
There’s now dispute about whether Manafort received “cash payments,” but it’s clear that in at least two cases he was wired the exact amount of money that was entered in the ledger next to his name. And that means that the ledger is not some fraud or trick concocted by one spy agency or another.
There are a variety of reasons why this matters, some of which are much more relevant to the people of Ukraine than to the people of the United States. At this point, Manafort no longer denies that he was paid, only that he was paid in cash and there was nothing untoward or illegal about him getting compensated for the work he had done. His prior assertion that the ledger was forged or fake is no longer operative.
But, remember, even without proof that the ledger was real, it caused him to resign. What does that tell you?
Since I am trying to keep this simple, the Ukrainians consider these undisclosed payments to Manafort to be a form of public looting by the party of Viktor Yanukovych (the Party of Regions), and they’d like to recover their money. The American authorities are probably more interested in the shell companies that were used as intermediaries to make the wire transfers. The issue of whether Manafort should have registered as an agent of a foreign government will also be revisited.
The public, however, has more confirmation that Manafort was dishonest about taking money off the books from a Ukrainian government that was closely aligned with Vladimir Putin. It was only when this government fell and Yanukovych sought exile in Russia that Putin moved to seize Crimea and to support Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine.
As the AP notes, “Manafort is also under scrutiny as part of congressional and FBI investigations into possible contacts between Trump associates and Russia’s government under President Vladimir Putin during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.” The allegations that led to his resignation have now been largely confirmed, but it’s not clear whether Manafort is newly exposed to perjury charges. I don’t know what he’s told the FBI. Let’s just say that it’s not helpful to his cause:
Federal prosecutors have been looking into Manafort’s work for years as part of an effort to recover Ukrainian assets stolen after the 2014 ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia. No charges have been filed as part of the investigation…
…As the AP reported last month, U.S. authorities have been looking into Manafort’s financial transactions in Cyprus. The records of Manafort’s Cypriot transactions were requested by the U.S. Treasury Department Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which works internationally with agencies to track money laundering and the movement of illicit funds around the globe.
Manafort’s connections to Putin have long been known, but it’s important that we now have proof that he’s been lying about the contents of the Black Ledger. His legal liabilities seem to be piling up, which could make him more likely to turn in to a government witness.
And, of course, you’ve probably heard that Carter Page has been under surveillance since last July, which means that he’s probably about to turn into a government witness, too. We know that Michael Flynn has been discussing an immunity deal with the FBI, although that alone doesn’t mean that he’ll flip or get a deal.
That’s a lot of pent up momentum for more revelations, so I’d expect to have an interesting spring and early summer as the public gradually learns what the intelligence community already knows.