President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort pushed back Wednesday on an Associated Press report about his business dealings in Ukraine, calling it "totally misleading and incorrect."
The report focuses on a financial ledger released by Ukrainian anti-corruption authorities last August. They claimed it showed improper secret payments to Manafort from Ukrainian political and business interests including the Russia-leaning Party of Regions political group, which Manafort’s firm advised from 2004 to 2010.
U.S. investigators have struggled to find direct evidence of wrongdoing from the financial ledger, partly because much of it is hand-written in cyrillic and Ukrainian investigators haven’t been able to cross-reference the entries with bank records.
But the AP report says that newly obtained financial records confirm that at least $1.2 million in payments between 2007 and 2009 listed in the ledger next to Manafort’s name were actually received by his consulting firm in the United States.
Later in the day the AP reported Manafort was registering as a foreign agent.
"Since before the 2016 election, Mr. Manafort has been in discussions with federal authorities about the advisability of registering under FARA for some of his past political work," Manafort's Spokesman Jason Maloni said in a statement. "Mr. Manafort received formal guidance recently from the authorities and he is taking appropriate steps in response to the guidance. The work in question was widely known, concluded before Mr. Manafort began working with the Trump Campaign and was not conducted on behalf of the Russian government."
The report goes on to detail how the transactions were made via connections in Belize and Cyprus, which the AP points out is an “island nation once known as a favored locale for money laundering.”
But Manafort’s spokesman told Fox News that “the real facts are completely contrary” to the implications of the AP report. “The real facts,” said Maloni, “are that Mr. Manafort did very visible consulting work for the Party of Regions and was paid by wire transfer into his accounts.
"Mr. Manafort has always denied that he ever received cash payments for his work and has consistently maintained that he received all of his payments for services rendered through wire transfers through the international banking system. There is absolutely nothing improper with this method of payment.”
As for the use of the Bank of Cyprus, in a statement provided to Fox News, Manafort said, “My company was paid… using clients’ preferred financial institutions and instructions. I performed my work, billed for my services, and received payment through my firm’s U.S. bank account.”
Much of the smoke involving Manafort’s activities in Ukraine with the Party of Regions has been driven by a member of the Ukrainian Parliament named Serhei Leshchenko. Whatever - if anything - Manafort was up to in Ukraine, even Leschenko admits he knows nothing about any collusion with the Russians.
Reached by Fox News at his home in Ukraine last month, Leshchenko told Fox News that he’s focused on allegations of Ukrainian corruption, and he’s trying to recover money he believes was unlawfully received from a party he opposed at the time.
But he admits that he has “no information on Manafort and Russia. I am just focused on the Ukraine issue.” Manafort, Leschenko said, “kept his eyes blind to all the corruption” by the Ukrainian politicians he was advising years ago.
And the AP makes clear that the payments in its report are unrelated to the 2016 presidential campaign and came years before Manafort worked as President Trump’s unpaid campaign chairman.
In conversations with Fox News, the Manafort team was highly critical of the Ukrainian lawmaker. “Mr. Leschenko has always claimed that Mr. Manafort received illegal cash payments for his work in Ukraine and that the alleged ‘black ledger’ of the Party of Regions proves it,” said Maloni, “Now, he is changing his story to say that he has proof that Mr. Manafort received wire transfers to his business account in the U.S. and this somehow proves illegal behavior.
"Beyond the fact that he is completely changing his story, Mr Leshchenko’s allegations are absurd. Allegations of corruption have been lobbed indiscriminately without a shred of evidence. What is Paul guilty of since it was publicly known he was working for the Party of Regions? Is someone alleging he did not provide consulting services?”
In his statement, Manafort said, “Individuals with political motivations are taking disparate pieces of information and distorting their significance through a campaign of smear and innuendo.”
Reached at his home in Ukraine on Wednesday, Leshchenko answered the Manafort team’s accusation that he changed his story, “Last summer we did not have the evidence we have now. Now we have a contract of payment. What kind of service did he provide for that money? What was the legal ground for the payment? I cannot say the payment was public because we cannot have access to wire transfer information.”
Manafort has volunteered to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, but no date has been set, at least publicly.