Top Donald Trump Aide Resigns

Photo: Greg E. Mathieson Sr./REX/Shutterstock.
Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager.
Update: Paul Manafort has resigned from the Trump campaign, two days after he was replaced as campaign manager. The news, first reported by The Washington Post, was confirmed by the Trump campaign. Ahead, a look at some of the controversies that plagued the top Trump aide.

Update August 17, 2016: Donald Trump's campaign confirmed a slew of job changes early Wednesday, including elevating advisor Kellyanne Conway to replace Paul Manafort as campaign manager. Manafort, who took the helm of the campaign earlier this summer, will remain on board as campaign chairman, The New York Times reports. Trump has also hired a Breitbart News executive, Stephen Bannon. The news comes days after Manafort's ties to politicians in Ukraine came under scrutiny once again. Read more about that controversy ahead.

This story was originally published on August 16, 2016.

"I have never received a single 'off-the-books cash payment'...nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia."

That statement didn't come from a political thriller — it came from the man in charge of running Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Paul Manafort, 67, was responding to a new report from The New York Times citing "$12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments" that Ukrainian anti-corruption investigators say the American strategist received from the country's former pro-Russia party.

The report has once again brought scrutiny to Manafort's political ties and experience outside the United States and Trump's positions on policy related to Russia.

As the Times notes:

"Mr. Manafort’s involvement with moneyed interests in Russia and Ukraine had previously come to light. But as American relationships there become a rising issue in the presidential campaign — from Mr. Trump’s favorable statements about Mr. Putin and his annexation of Crimea to the suspected Russian hacking of Democrats’ emails — an examination of Mr. Manafort’s activities offers new details of how he mixed politics and business out of public view and benefited from powerful interests now under scrutiny by the new government in Kiev."

Manafort has refuted the paper's story, saying his work was legitimate and that the suggestion that he "accepted cash payments is unfounded, silly and nonsensical."

Still, Hillary Clinton’s campaign was among those wasting no time in jumping on the report, with manager Robby Mook saying it showed “more troubling connections between Donald Trump’s team and pro-Kremlin elements in Ukraine.”

Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, added fuel to the fire, becoming one of the first people to tweet out the story. (Lewandowski, who was reportedly ousted because of infighting with Manafort, told CNN Monday morning he circulated the report to show anti-Trump media bias.)

Here are three key things to know about Manafort's work and the latest allegations:

Who is Paul Manafort, and who are his former clients?
Manafort has had a long track record in Republican politics. As a student at Georgetown, he helped found a group for young GOP activists called the "Kiddie Corps," as Fortune notes.

He went on to make a name for himself helping the likes of Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and later George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole.

In the 1980s, Manafort left the world of campaigns to cofound his own political firm, Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. And over the years Manafort, working as a lobbyist, has been tied to his share of questionable clients.

The suggestion that I accepted cash payments is unfounded, silly and nonsensical.

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There was Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan rebel leader, whose personal ambition helped fuel a civil war; military dictator Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo); Somalia’s Siad Barre; the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos; and most recently Ukraine’s ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, a darling of the Russian government.

Manafort’s exact role in Ukrainian politics is not entirely clear. He is reported to have begun working in the Eastern European country in 2005. Among other things, he was tasked with helping to resuscitate the Party of Regions, whose leader was Yanukovych. Yanukovych was ultimately elected president in 2010, and according to the Times, he was Manafort’s main client.

Earlier this year on Fox, Manafort described his relationship this way: "The role that I played in that administration was to help bring Ukraine into Europe, and we did," Manafort said. "We succeeded."

Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March, with the stated goal of helping the candidate win the delegates he needed to secure the Republican nomination. Just two months later, he rose to the role of chairman and chief strategist. He took over as campaign manager after Lewandowski was ousted in June.

What does this latest report allege?
According to the paper, Ukraine's new National Anti-Corruption Bureau discovered that “handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. [Viktor] Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012."

Yanukovych was ousted in a popular uprising in February 2014.

The payments could be part of a bigger scandal. According to the Times, “criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles... Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladmir V. Putin.”

Over the years, Manafort, working as a lobbyist, has been tied to his share of questionable clients.

It is not clear if Manafort actually received the cash or if his activities were illegal.

Manafort issued a statement refuting the article's claims.

"All of the political payments directed to me were for my entire political team: campaign staff (local and international), polling and research, election integrity and television advertising. The suggestion that I accepted cash payments is unfounded, silly and nonsensical," the statement read.

His statement did not disclose the details of his work on behalf of Yanukovych.

What does the law allow?
The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which became law in 1938, says anyone working inside the United States on behalf of a foreign government or officials has to disclose the activity.

It was enacted to “insure that the U.S. Government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information (propaganda) and the identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and laws.” FARA was a Congressional response to pro-Nazi “propaganda agents” pre-World War II.
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But there are loopholes — FARA, for example, does not pertain to activity outside the U.S. by American officials.

The Times notes that it is "unclear" whether Manafort needed to report his work.

"If they were limited to advising the Party of Regions in Ukraine, he probably would not have had to," the paper reports.

Some have argued that it’s time to update the rules.

“I believe that FARA could use an overhaul,” Kenneth A. Gross, a Washington-based lawyer who specializes in lobbying on disclosure matters, told Refinery29 via email. “It has not been touched for decades, and its disclosure provisions intended to fight foreign influence on our government dating back to before [World War II] could use some retooling.”

In many political races, the allegations of ledgers and cash from the party of a Kremlin favorite to a top U.S. political aide could be seen as incredibly damaging. But Manafort does not appear poised to resign anytime soon.
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