Paul Manafort Denies Contact With Russia While Working For Trump.
New Britain native Paul Manafort, a veteran political operative who for months ran President Donald Trump’s campaign, is denying a report he had contact with Russian intelligence officials while he was campaign chairman.
Citing anonymous sources, the New York Times reported law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted calls between Manafort and senior Russian intelligence officials last summer.
“The story is not true,” Manafort told NBC News Wednesday. He said he had no contact, knowingly or inadvertently, with Russian officials. “It’s not like they wear badges,” he said.
The news about Manafort came a day after Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, resigned following reports he misled senior White House officials about his conversations with Russia before Trump was inaugurated. Democrats and some Republicans have called for a thorough investigation into all communication between Trump’s team and Russia, before and after he was sworn in.
American intelligence agencies concluded in a report in January that the Russian government interfered in the presidential election, including hacking the Democratic National Committee, to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. Trump, who had spoken favorably about Putin, denied anyone from his campaign had contact with Russian officials.
Roger Stone, a Norwalk native and veteran political operative who worked with Manafort at his Washington lobbying firm, served as an adviser to Trump during the campaign. His conduct, along with two others who worked on the campaign, was being “closely examined” by the FBI, according to the Times report. Stone has denied he had any contact with Russian officials and blasted the report on Twitter Wednesday.
“New York Times recycles the same bogus story on Russian influence on Trump election — still provides no proof,” he said.
Trump responded to the report by saying that “the real scandal” was the leaks from intelligence agencies to news outlets. Classified information “is illegally given out … like candy. Very un-American,” he posted on Twitter.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., and a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Trump was trying to distract from the Russia issue by talking about leaks.
“The idea here that though we have evidence, or at least the press has floated the notion, that there were contacts between the campaign and Russian intelligence officers, no the real story here is leaks? It’s insane,” Himes said on CNN Thursday morning. “This is an effort at misdirection to take attention away from what is an absolute challenge to our national security.”
Manafort joined Trump’s campaign in March and took a greater role in June when Trump’s then-campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was fired. He helped wrangle delegates for Trump ahead of the Republican National Convention in July, and spoke to the Republican delegates from Connecticut at a breakfast that week.
But in August, Manafort resigned days after new top advisers were brought on and amid reports of conflict within the campaign and new revelations about Manafort’s work in Ukraine.
A New York Times investigation uncovered handwritten ledgers showing $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments for Manafort from former Ukranian prime minister and president, Viktor Yanukovych, who has close ties to Putin. Manafort denied he’d received any illegal payments.
Manafort has not spoken much publicly about exactly what he did in Ukraine, but he provided details last year in an interview.
“When people say that I was involved in a pro-Putin administration, number one, they don’t understand that Yanukovych and Putin were enemies for most of the four years of his term,” Manafort told The Courant. “Number two, the main accomplishment of Yanukovych was to set the stage for Ukraine to be in Europe, which is pro-American and pro-Western, not pro-Russian.”
He emphasized that he has never represented clients against American interests.
“There are a lot of campaigns in Western democracies that I’ve done that you don’t read about,” Manafort said. “They were always in concert with U.S. foreign policy, never contrary to it. That’s what gets lost in the media messaging.”