Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s lavishly-compensated work for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party came into sharper focus when he retroactively filed with the U.S. Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) late Tuesday.
Manafort’s firm, DMP International LLC, earned more than $17 million over just two years from the now-defunct Party of Regions, according to his filings, which are a belated acknowledgement that the work he was doing primarily benefited a foreign power. Deliberate failure to register under FARA can result in a felony charge and severe financial penalties, but such prosecutions are rare.
Manafort’s spokesman, Jason Maloni, said that the former campaign chairman began the registration process shortly after he left the Trump campaign in August amid mounting questions about the millions of dollars he earned doing political work in Ukraine.
“He started this process in concert with FARA’s unit in September, before the outcome of the election and well before any formal investigation of election interference began,” Maloni said in a statement. “Paul’s primary focus was always directed at domestic Ukrainian political campaign work, and that is reflected in today’s filing.”
The FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election actually began in July 2016, as fired bureau director James Comey testified before Congress. Manafort is one of several Trump associates under scrutiny in the probe, now helmed by special counsel Robert Mueller, for his business dealings and ties to Russian operatives. Federal investigators first began looking into Manafort’s political activity in Ukraine in 2014, and recently their inquiry reportedly expanded to look into real estate investments Manafort made in partnership with his son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai.
Manafort’s 87-page FARA filing shows that he and Rick Gates, an associate in his firm who also worked on the Trump campaign, conducted polling and developed a party platform and political agenda for the Party of Regions and then-President Viktor Yanukovych. Between 2012-2014, their firm spent about $4 million of the party’s money on polling and consulting services in both the United States and Ukraine, and another $2 million on travel and living expenses.
Their firm also advised Ukrainian officials on dealing with their U.S. counterparts, and held at least one meeting with an American politician: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).
The filing shows that Manafort held a March 2013 meeting with Rohrabacher, who has such an ardently pro-Russia reputation that he’s been dubbed “Putin’s favorite congressman,” and then donated $1,000 to the lawmaker just three days later.
Manafort’s work in Ukraine predated the time period covered by his retroactive FARA filing. Shortly before his departure from the Trump campaign, the New York Times reported that secret ledgers maintained by the Party of Regions showed Manafort was earmarked to receive $12.7 million in cash payments between 2007 and 2012.
Ukrainian prosecutors said this week that they’d found no proof Manafort had signed off to actually receive these off-the-books payments, which were first discovered by last year by anti-corruption investigators in that country, Bloomberg reported.
Both Manafort and Gates have denied there was anything untoward about their work in Ukraine, with Gates recently telling the Times that “everything was done legally and with the approval of our lawyers.”
Gates is one of the most recent Trump campaign associates to be pulled into the Russia mess. His name reportedly was included in a memo a Trump transition team lawyer circulated to former campaign officials requesting the preservation of all documents related to Russia and Ukraine, as well as travel records and all documents connected to a handful of former campaign staffers.
Manafort and Gates are the second and third prominent members of Trump’s campaign to retroactively register as foreign agents. Ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn registered under FARA shortly after leaving the White House for lobbying work his consulting firm did to benefit the government of Turkey during the 2016 election.
Read Manafort’s full filing below: