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Washington Post | 27Apr2016 | Anne Applebaum, [2] Michael Isikoff, [3] Peter Stone

Trump’s newest adviser served disgraced Ukrainian strongman

When democracy arrived in the eastern half of Europe a quarter century ago, imported from the West, it did not come in its purest, most Athenian form. Of course the West loaned the East quite a few constitutional lawyers, as well as lots of idealists who could talk about judicial reform or give advice on how to organize an election. But on the heels of the idealists arrived another crowd of “experts”: the spin doctors, the masters of negative campaigning and the public relations firms who had honed their craft in U.S. elections and were more than willing to sell their expertise in the East as well.

Famously, a group of California political consultants claimed to have masterminded Boris Yeltsin’s campaign to win the Russian presidency in 1996. Even if their role wasn’t quite what they spun it to be, that campaign, like many that followed, certainly deployed what were generally called “American-style” campaign tactics. Rock concerts, hip “get out the vote” MTV campaigns -- none of that had been used in Russia before. In the years that followed, copycat campaigns popped up all over what had once been the eastern bloc.

But now we may be about to witness the opposite phenomenon: the flow of political influence from East to West. Donald Trump’s new campaign adviser Paul Manafort returns to U.S. politics after many years spent working for Viktor Yanukovych, president of Ukraine until he fled the country in disgrace in 2014. We don’t really know what, exactly, Manafort did for his Ukrainian client. But we do know how Yanukovych won the Ukrainian elections in 2010, and how he ran the country. Perhaps Manafort can transmit some lessons from his experience for a would-be U.S. president.

To begin with, Yanukovych did undergo a profound “image makeover” strikingly similar to the one that Trump needs right now. Yanukovych was an ex-con, close to Russian-backed business interests in Ukraine. He had, in other words, “high negatives.” But he cleaned up his act, stopped using criminal jargon and presented himself as a “reform” candidate, as opposed to the crooked establishment. Since everybody was genuinely sick of the crooked establishment, he won -- despite the fact that he was no more honest than the people he’d said he was trying to beat. This of course, is what Trump is going to try to do: persuade people to support him because he is an outrageous, truth-speaking “outsider”, even though in reality he’s as much of an “insider” as it is possible to be. Manafort, with his deep experience in this particular con trick, can help.

On his way to power, and once in power, Yanukovych also became famous for the use of rented thugs, known as “titushki,” who could be used to intimidate opposition protesters, journalists, or whoever needed to be scared off. These weren’t police, and they weren’t security guards. They were just guys paid by Yanukovych to rough people up and scare them. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban’s party, Fidesz, has recently made use of a similar method, deploying skinheads to prevent their political opponents from registering for a referendum. We’ve seen prototype versions of this tactic already in use at Trump rallies. Perhaps Manafort, fresh off his experiences in Ukraine, can develop the concept further.

Some of Yanukovych’s tactics might be harder to deploy, such as falsifying election results (though it’s not like that never happened in the U.S.) or abolishing the right to protest (though Trump at times sounds like he wouldn’t mind passing such a law if he could). But others are already in use. Pro-Trump troll armies, for example -- fake Twitter accounts programmed to tweet the same message, a very popular tactic east of the Dnieper -- are already in the field.

Another Yanukovych tactic -- paid supporters at rallies -- is already in the Trump arsenal too. Let’s just hope that, if Trump wins, we won’t need a Maidan revolution to put American democracy back together again.

The Washington Post

Anne Applebaum is  Director of the Global Transitions Program at the Legatum Institute in London

Yahoo News | 26Apr2016 | Michael Isikoff

Trump’s campaign chief is questioned about ties to Russian billionaire

A lawyer for Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s chief campaign aide, acknowledged Tuesday evening that the longtime GOP operative has been questioned by officials from the Cayman Islands in connection with a $26.2 million investment by a billionaire Russian oligarch who was his partner in an ill-fated telecommunications development in Ukraine. The lawyer’s comments came in response to an earlier story by Yahoo News about the Cayman officials’ efforts to track down Manafort for his testimony.

The dispute goes back years, but last summer, court-appointed liquidators from the Cayman Islands initiated legal action in federal court in Alexandria, Va., seeking to question under oath Manafort and two business partners about a business deal involving firms controlled by Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate who for years was barred from entering the United States over allegations of ties to organized crime.

“These guys are chasing their money,” said Rick Davis, one of the partners subpoenaed in the case and the manager of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “They [Deripaska’s firms] invested in something and it just went away. They are actually trying to track down where the company went and where the [money] went.”

Richard Hibey, a lawyer for Manafort, emailed Yahoo News Tuesday night stating that “Mr. Manafort and others appeared for depositions some months ago and answered all questions,” mooting the legal action in Virginia, and added, “we are not privy to any other developments.” Hibey, however, declined to address any specifics about Manafort’s dealings with Deripaska, noting that since “the matter is pending in the Caymans, it would be inappropriate to discuss it.”

Davis told Yahoo News that, through his lawyer, he informed the Cayman Island court officials that he knew nothing about the investment, even though Manafort’s company in the partnership with Deripaska, Davis Manafort International, still bears his name.

In fact, Davis said, he hasn’t spoken to Manafort in more than five years, didn’t know how to reach him and was stunned to learn last year about Manafort’s side business investments with Deripaska, a controversial figure who -- through Davis’ help -- had met with McCain and other U.S. senators in 2006 during a time the Russian oligarch was seeking to persuade U.S. authorities to allow him to enter the United States.

“I was like, what the f*** is this?” Davis recalled when he learned the Cayman Island court officials wanted to question him about the Ukrainian telecommunications investment. “I wasn’t involved in this thing.”

In earlier court filings in the Caymans, Deripaska’s lawyers had alleged that Manafort and another of his business partners, Rick Gates (who also recently went to work for the Trump campaign), had failed to respond to repeated requests for audit reports or any other information about the Ukrainian investment funds put out by Deripaska. Gates also did not respond to a request for comment by Yahoo News. “It appears that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have simply disappeared,” Deripaska’s lawyers wrote in a petition to the Cayman Islands court filed in Dec. 4, 2014.

Whatever the explanation, the court documents shed new light on a trail of complicated offshore business dealings (many of them through firms registered in the Cayman Islands, Cyprus and elsewhere) that Manafort engaged in with wealthy Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs -- relationships he appears to have forged while serving as chief political consultant to former Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych, an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin who fled Kiev in February 2014 and now lives in Moscow.

These ties could prove problematic for Manafort, especially in light of a report today by Politico that Trump has increasing misgivings about his new top aide, who is trying to position the Republican frontrunner as a more conventional candidate. According to Politico, Trump also had concerns about Manafort’s past ties to controversial foreign figures like Yanukovych and, as reported by Yahoo News last week, to a Pakistani intelligence front group -- associations that Trump was apparently unaware of when he hired him.

A separate lawsuit filed in New York three years ago details multiple business deals that Manafort had with another pro-Putin oligarch, Dmitri Firtash, including plans to purchase New York’s Drake Hotel and develop a high-end resort on the Bahamian island of Bimini.

The New York lawsuit, filed on behalf of former Ukranian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych’s rival, alleged that Manafort’s business deals were part of a “racketeering” scheme to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through a “labyrinth” of Firtash-controlled companies in Panama, Cyprus and Europe for the benefit of Yanukovych.

The lawsuit was tossed out by a federal judge in New York last fall on the grounds that it mainly involved overseas activity that was not within the jurisdiction of the court. But as part of the case, the lawyer for Tymoshenko, Kenneth F. McCallion, put into the court record documents detailing Manafort’s business arrangements with Firtash, including memos and emails about meetings between them in Kiev and a copy of an agreement to create a limited partnership with Firtash registered in the Cayman Islands that was signed by Manafort in April 2009. (Firtash two years ago was indicted by a federal grand jury in Chicago for alleged conspiracy to bribe Indian government officials for a titanium contract. He was arrested in Vienna, but the Austrian government rebuffed a Justice Department request for his extradition last year. The oligarch remains a federal fugitive with an outstanding Interpol warrant, afraid to risk arrest by leaving Austria, according to a source close to him.)

During the same period that Manafort was pursuing the business deals with Firtash, he was also soliciting investments from Deripaska, according to the court petition filed by Deripaska’s lawyers in the Cayman Islands and, more recently, by the Cayman liquidators in Alexandria, Va.

Long known as one of Putin’s favorite oligarchs, Deripaska made billions of dollars in the aluminum business in the 1990s, becoming one of Russia’s wealthiest men. But in 2006, the State Department, at the FBI’s request, revoked his visa to enter the United States because of concerns about allegations of corruption, bribery and possible ties to organized crime, which Deripaska denied.

According to “Missing Man,” a forthcoming book by New York Times reporter Barry Meier, the FBI later relented and secretly arranged to have the Department of Homeland Security issue Deripaska a temporary visa in 2009, allowing him into the U.S. to meet with American business leaders after the oligarch promised he could help the bureau find Robert Levinson, a former bureau agent who has gone missing in Iran. But according to Meier’s book, Deripaska’s leads went nowhere and bureau officials determined they had been had by the Russian. The FBI concluded that Deripaska and two associates “were bullshit artists who had used Bob’s case as a means to try to get the United States to do what they wanted without ever delivering anything,” Meier writes.

The court filings in Alexandria stem from an agreement in March 2007 to create a Cayman Islands partnership called Pericles Emerging Market Investors, between a firm owned by Manafort and Gates and Surf Horizon, described as a company incorporated that summer in Cyprus to serve as a special purpose vehicle for investments by one of Deripaska’s companies in Moscow. (Deripaska is not identified by name in the court filings, but sources directly familiar with the case told Yahoo News he was the principal figure with whom Manafort had partnered.)

The partnership’s purpose was to “generate significant long-term capital appreciation” through private equity investments in Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere. As part of the deal, Deripaska’s firms paid $7.35 million in management fees to Manafort and Gates.

But the deal went south after Pericles paid $18.9 million in 2008 to holdings in Cyprus controlled by Manafort and Gates for the purchase of Black Sea Cable, a Ukrainian holding company for telecommunications and Internet interests in that country. Citing the worldwide financial crisis that year, Deripaska’s firms later suspended further investments and the two parties agreed to wind down their partnership, according to the filing by Deripaska’s lawyers.

Lawyers for the Russian oligarch then started seeking information -- and audits -- about what happened to the investment and the management fees Deripaska’s firms had paid. In court papers, they allege they discovered that the Ukranian investment had been structured differently than they had been led to believe -- and with different partners. When they sought obtain copies of the agreement and sales contracts, as well as promised audit reports on their investment, Manafort and Gates did not respond to their requests. Deripaska’s lawyers then sought and obtained the appointment of court-appointed liquidators to investigate what happened to his money.

Guardian | 27Apr2016 | Peter Stone

Trump's new right-hand man has history of controversial clients and deals

For almost four decades, Donald Trump’s newly installed senior campaign adviser, Paul Manafort, has managed to juggle two different worlds: well known during US election season as a shrewd and tough political operative, he also boasts a hefty resume as a consultant to or lobbyist for controversial foreign leaders and oligarchs with unsavory reputations.

The controversial clients Manafort has represented have paid him and his firms millions of dollars and form a who’s who of authoritarian leaders and scandal-plagued businessmen in Ukraine, Russia, the Philippines and more. On some occasions, Manafort has become involved in business deals that have sparked litigation and allegations of impropriety.

In 1985, Manafort and his first lobbying firm, Black Manafort Stone & Kelly, signed a $1m contract with a Philippine business group to promote dictator Ferdinand Marcos just a few months before his regime was overthrown and he fled the country.

In the mid-1990s, Manafort reportedly received almost $90,000 from a Lebanese-born businessman and arms merchant to advise French presidential candidate and then prime minister Edouard Balladur, a controversial payment that surfaced as part of a long running French investigation -- dubbed the Karachi affair -- into allegations that funds, including those Manafort received, came from an arms sale of French submarines to Pakistan and were illegally funneled into the French presidential campaign.

And in 2010, Manafort helped pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych remake his tarnished image and win a presidential election in Ukraine. The effort was arguably the high point in a decade of political and business consulting in that country involving figures such as gas tycoon Dmytro Firtash, who was separately charged in 2014 by US officials with being part of a bribery scheme in India. The US has sought to have him extradited from Austria, where he was arrested. Firtash and a billionaire Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, also worked with Manafort on separate byzantine investment deals in New York and Ukraine, respectively, that have led to lawsuits.

The financial dividends that the globetrotting 67-year-old Manafort reaped from these clients and others are palpable: he has homes in Alexandria, Virginia, Palm Beach, Florida, and the Hamptons, in New York, where his house is valued at almost $5.3m, according to property records. For good measure, Manafort has a condo in Trump Tower.

But some former US Department of State officials familiar with Manafort say his track record as an international adviser may create new headaches for a campaign that has already been criticized for its weak foreign policy credentials and for Trump’s controversial pronouncements and stances, including his warm words for Vladimir Putin, an ally of ex-Manafort client Yanukovych.

“Advising Yanukovych is like putting lipstick on a pig,” said David Kramer, who was a top state department official handling Ukrainian and Russian issues in the second half of the George W Bush administration. Yanukovych, who was ousted in early 2014 and now lives in Russia, was “someone who was involved in massive corruption and had blood on his hands”, he added.

Likewise, some foreign analysts who track Ukraine and Russia voice strong concerns about Manafort’s work and question Trump’s judgment in bringing him on. “Any presidential candidate should properly vet the backgrounds of and moral decisions of the people he picks to advise him,” said Atlantic Council deputy director Alina Polyakova, adding that Manafort’s past work in Ukraine “absolutely should cast a shadow on Trump’s campaign”.

And some GOP insiders voice similar concerns. “Putin is not very popular in the US,” one party veteran operative dryly observed. “Working for his allies probably demands some explanation on Trump’s behalf.”

Similar issues about Manafort have arisen before: his work in Ukraine sparked a decision not to bring him on board as John McCain’s convention manager in 2008, according to people close to the McCain campaign.

Nevertheless, Manafort’s role with Trump has expanded quickly since he was tapped in late March 2016 to manage Trump’s convention operation and round up delegates, a speciality of Manafort’s going back to the 1976 GOP convention, when he worked for Gerald Ford’s campaign. Now, Manafort is opening a Washington DC office and hiring some key staffers -- including a few former lobbyists who have worked with him over the years, as Politico first reported -- as the campaign tries to fend off critics and wrap up the nomination.

Ed Rollins, who managed Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign, told the Guardian that Manafort did a “good job” working for him as convention manager. “He’s a good operative and will help Trump.”

“Paul has become the public face of the campaign in addition to Trump and has the authority to speak for Trump, which nobody has really had before,” said Charlie Black, his lobbying partner for almost 15 years at Black Manafort Stone & Kelly.

But Black, who is supporting Ohio governor John Kasich, adds that Manafort’s recent comments at a private Republican national committee meeting where he tried to assuage critics by saying that Trump has just been “projecting an image” and that “the part he’s been playing is now evolving” represented a risky and difficult makeover. “I’ve known Trump for 30 years and he’s had the same personality. Whether or not he can win, it’s a mistake to try to change him into something he’s not,” Black said.

Some GOP fundraisers are also dubious about whether Trump and his top aides can pull off such a makeover.

“I wish him good luck in altering Trump’s candidacy,” said Mel Sembler, a top fundraiser for the Super Pac Right to Rise that was backing Jeb Bush, and a former ambassador during the George W Bush presidency.

Manafort’s remarks at the RNC meeting, which were meant to be private but were secretly recorded, seem to have briefly roiled the campaign and irritated Trump, whom Manafort likes to call the “boss”, GOP sources say.

Feeling some heat, Manafort over the weekend tried to walk back his comments, saying on Fox News that “we’re evolving the campaign, not the candidate”. On Saturday, Trump told a crowd at a rally in Connecticut: “I’m not toning it down.”

Eyebrows have also been raised over several new hires on Manafort’s brief watch, which include a few ex-lobbyists and consultants -- such as Rick Gates, who handled some Ukraine-related projects for Manafort in largely administrative functions -- who have little campaign experience.

Still, Manafort seems to be moving fast to consolidate his power and in some ways supersede campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who has been enmeshed in controversies over his rough treatment of a reporter.

Manafort’s ties with Trump stretch back a long way: Trump turned to Manafort’s first lobbying firm in Washington in the late 80s for lobbying help for the Trump Organization. Trump forged close ties with Manafort’s then partner Roger Stone, who became a confidante of the billionaire and is now an informal campaign adviser who had a role in promoting Manafort’s hiring.

But Manafort’s work in Ukraine and his links to some scandal-plagued business figures, such as the oligarchs Firtash and Deripaska, and the arms dealer Abdul Rahman el-Assir, could wind up embarrassing the Trump campaign -- especially given its repeated attacks on Washington insiders and lobbyists for special interests.

Based on documents and sources close to Manafort, the Guardian has learned new details about a few of the controversial leaders and business figures Manafort has lobbied for or advised during his decades as a Washington insider.

Like Yanukovych, Firtash had a troubled reputation. Former US ambassador William Taylor said in a secret memo from 2008 that in a meeting he had with him, Firtash “acknowledged ties to Russian organized crime figure Semyon Mogilevich, stating that he had needed Mogilevich’s approval to get into business in the first place”.

The ties that Manafort had with Firtash -- which included three meetings in 2008, according to documents that were part of the lawsuit -- in their abortive real estate ventures involved a maze of companies and solicitations of investors with dubious backgrounds. One key example: a private equity company called Pericles Emerging Markets Partners, which Manafort helped set up with funding from Russian investors. A principal one, an informed source says, was aluminum oligarch and Putin favorite Deripaska, who at the time was barred from entering the US due to concerns about organized crime links.

According to a 2014 Cayman Islands court filing, the Russian investors charged in a petition that about $26m they had invested with the Cayman-based Pericles -- via an offshore entity in Cyprus that the Russians controlled -- to acquire a Ukrainian cable TV company and an internet venture was unaccounted for by Manafort and his partner Gates. The court petition from the Russian entity in Cyprus (known as Surf Horizons) said that the two men had failed to reply to requests for information since 2011 about the status of their Ukrainian investment -- which was slated to be sold off -- and that Manafort and Gates had “disappeared”.

The court filing shows that Surf Horizon was seeking to recover as much of its investment as possible through a liquidation of Pericles. The court quickly issued a ruling in favor of the Russian investors to help them recoup funding by putting Pericles into liquidation. As Yahoo News reported, the Cayman court sought discovery from a federal court in Virginia, which ordered Manafort, Gates and others to give depositions in the US about Pericles and the Ukrainian investments in 2015; Hibey, Manafort’s attorney, told the Guardian that his client and others had complied last year and there had been no further requests in the US.

Manafort failed to respond to several queries about his Ukraine work, as well as his ties to El-Assir, Deripaska and Pericles. In an interview with Fox News on Sunday [24Apr2016], he defended his work for Yanukovych: “The role I played in that administration was to help bring Ukraine into Europe and we did.”

Despite Manafort’s years of controversial lobbying and foreign consulting, and the flap over his RNC comments, there is evidence that, for now anyway, his roles in the Trump campaign have been growing.

“Manafort has an ever-expanding portfolio,” said a senior GOP operative, including “messaging and overall strategy”. Manafort, the operative said, recently suggested Trump deliver a major foreign policy talk in Washington, something that took place on Wednesday, [27Apr2016] drawing mostly negative reviews from policy experts.