President Trump’s former campaign chairman acknowledged on Wednesday he had worked for a Russian billionaire about a decade ago, but he denied a report suggesting the lobbying efforts served Russian political interests.
The Associated Press report on Paul Manafort comes amid swirling accusations – and congressional and FBI investigations – of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign and possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Kremlin operatives.
The AP reported early Wednesday that Manafort worked for aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin and proposed a political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics. The report said the revelation may contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.
But Manafort noted his advocacy for Deripaska predated his own association with Trump’s campaign and suggested his services did not amount to lobbying for Russian interests.
‘‘I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments,” Manafort said in a statement to Fox News. “My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russian political interests.”
A senior White House official told Fox News the Trump campaign wasn’t aware Manafort – who helped Trump amass and retain delegates during the primary process and served as campaign chairman from April through August – had previously dealt with Deripaska. The official said there had been several discussions of Manafort’s business dealings and the subject of Deripaska “never came up.”
Manafort is reportedly one of the Trump associates being examined by the FBI for possible links to Russia.
Manafort worked for Deripaska from 2006 to 2009, the AP reported, and the two had a falling out over a Ukrainian TV investment in 2014 – a year before Trump announced he was running for the GOP presidential nomination. It's not uncommon for U.S. political consultants to work in campaigns abroad.
Strategy memos obtained by the AP allegedly show Manafort told Deripaska that he and Putin – who is reportedly close to the billionaire magnate – would benefit from a lobbying campaign focused on Western governments, particularly the U.S. The campaign’s goal: allow oligarchs to keep possession of formerly state-owned assets in Ukraine.
“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort allegedly wrote in a 2005 memo.
Manafort left the Trump campaign in August after it was revealed the longtime operator had worked for the pro-Russian party of ex-Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych.
Fox News’ John Roberts and The Associated Press contributed to this report.