New Manafort travel docs reveal closer ties to Russia: report

Paul Manafort had taken 18 trips to Moscow and was in contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allies for more than a decade before running President Trump’s 2016 election campaign, a new report said Thursday.

Manafort, who was indicted by a federal grand jury last month on 12 counts including conspiracy against the United States, had also taken at least 19 trips to Kiev to work with a pro-Kremlin political faction before joining Trump’s team, McClatchy reported.

The news outlet cited flight records they obtained from Ukrainian authorities as well as intelligence gathered from current and foreign government officials. The new evidence suggests Manafort’s ties to the Kremlin go much deeper than previously thought.

Even after the February 2014 fall of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych, Manafort continued to go to Kiev another 19 times in fewer than two years while working for the smaller, pro-Russian Opposition Block party, McClatchy reported.

Some have suggested Manafort had been turned into an asset acting on Moscow’s behalf.

“You can make a case that all along he ...was either working principally for Moscow, or he was trying to play both sides against each other just to maximize his profits,” Daniel Fried, a former assistant secretary of state who communicated with Manafort during Yanukovych’s reign in President George W. Bush’s second term, told McClatchy.

“He’s at best got a conflict of interest and at worst is really doing Putin’s bidding,” Fried, now a fellow with the Atlantic Council, said.

A central question for Justice Department Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and several congressional committees has been whether Manafort collaborated with Russia’s cyber meddling aimed at giving Trump the electoral edge over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

A source familiar with the matter told McClatchy that investigators are looking over information they obtained as part of a deeper dive into Russian influence in the U.S. presidential elections.

Manafort resigned on Aug. 19, 2016 after The New York Times reported handwritten ledgers showed $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments to Manafort from Yanukovych. Investigators in Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau contend the payments were part of an illegal off-the-books system.

FBI agents raided Manafort’s Virginia home in July, taking documents that included financial and tax records.

Manafort and his associate Rick Gates were indicted and last month pleaded not guilty to all 12 counts.

A judge set bond at $10 million for Manafort, and $5 million for Gates. Both were put on house arrest.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson gave Manafort and Gates permission to leave their home and have Thanksgiving with their families, but said they must wear a GPS ankle monitor and not consume alcohol.