A Foreign Ministry official says Ukrainian officials hampered Trump by targeting Manafort.
A top Russian official is accusing the Ukrainian government of undermining Donald Trump’s presidential campaign by trashing him on social media and disseminating dirt on one of his close associates.
A spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday contended that the Ukrainian government over the summer damaged Trump’s campaign by implicating his then-campaign chief Paul Manafort in a corruption scandal involving a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party funded by oligarchs.
“Ukraine seriously complicated the work of Trump’s election campaign headquarters by planting information according to which Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, allegedly accepted money from Ukrainian oligarchs,” Maria Zakharova said at a press briefing, according to a transcript of her remarks posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website. “All of you have heard this remarkable story,” she told assembled reporters.
The renewed scrutiny of Manafort’s dealings in Ukraine comes at an awkward time for the veteran operative and for Trump. As the president-elect works to assemble his foreign policy team, his stance toward Russia and its neighbors is being closely watched by the international community.
Manafort, who had been pushed out of Trump’s campaign in late August because of growing press scrutiny of his work in Ukraine in recent weeks has re-emerged as an informal adviser as President-elect Trump has assembled his administration, according to a handful of people around the transition team.
And Thursday’s allegation from Moscow also seems at least mildly ironic, coming amid calls from Washington Democrats for an investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election in a manner that damaged Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. The U.S. intelligence community during the campaign accused Russia of directing hacks of the Democratic National Committee and of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, yielding emails that raised questions about Clinton’s connections to Wall Street and her family’s foundation and financial interests.
The hacking elevated Russia as a major issue in the presidential race. Clinton and her allies cast Trump as the preferred candidate of Russia, one of the U.S.’s top geopolitical foes, citing the hacking, as well as Trump’s ties to Russia and his laissez-faire stance on Russian aggression toward Ukraine, not to mention Manafort’s connections to pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians.
Manafort’s work in Ukraine started becoming a more serious liability for Trump’s campaign when the New York Times in August reported that The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine was investigating a “secret ledger” that listed $12.7 million in cash payments earmarked for Manafort by the party of the deposed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
While the anti-corruption agency stressed that Manafort’s inclusion on the ledger “does not mean that he actually got the money” (and Manafort denied that he had received any cash payments) its officials did not challenge characterizations that Manafort was among the targets of their investigation into Yanukovych’s party.
But, after Trump’s stunning victory over Clinton in last month’s presidential election, officials with the corruption bureau appeared to backpedal. One was quoted in the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda saying, “Mr. Manafort does not have a role in this case.”
The National Anti-Corruption Bureau earlier this week didn’t respond to questions from POLITICO about its investigation into the Party of Regions ledger, or whether the bureau was investigating Manafort.
On Thursday, Manafort told POLITICO that the bureau had never contacted him.
“I never understood why I was the target,” he said. “I wasn’t the candidate. I was just caught in the crossfire.”
Manafort wouldn’t comment on his role in Trump’s transition.
But he was spotted at Trump Tower last week, and a handful of sources around the transition team told POLITICO that Manafort has spoken to Trump periodically since the election. They said that Manafort, who spent the last three decades collecting huge paydays from businesses and politicians all over the world, has acted as a sort of informal matchmaker, advising foreign policy operatives on how to join the transition.
Additionally, close Manafort associates have worked for Trump’s transition, as well as his inaugural committee.
Hope Hicks, a Trump spokeswoman, rejected the suggestion that Manafort was playing even an informal role. “Paul Manafort has absolutely no involvement with the transition team or communication with the president-elect,” she said.
Trump’s team did not respond to questions about Zakharova’s comments at Thursday’s briefing, nor did representatives from the Ukrainian and Russian embassies in Washington.
Zakharova contended during the briefing that Ukrainian officials were desperate to protect their favorable relationship with the U.S. after having run afoul of Trump — and Manafort — during the campaign.
“It appears that keeping this sponsorship is a big challenge for the Kiev authorities, who were uncivilized and rude toward President-elect Donald Trump when he was a presidential candidate,” Zakharova said, according to the transcript.
“You probably remember that Ukrainian officials and diplomatic representatives abroad did not express their views or political assessments but openly insulted the person whom the American people elected their president. You may remember that they later tried to delete these statements from their social networks accounts and their sites, saying that they had been wrong and had rushed to conclusions,” she said, which appears at least in part to be a reference to a since-deleted July tweet by a recently retired Ukrainian diplomat calling Trump a “clown” and asserting that Trump is “an even bigger danger to the US than terrorism.”