Now that Donald Trump is headed to the White House, a former adviser accused of illegally facilitating and obscuring pro-Russian influence over American policy is reportedly back in the fold.
Paul Manafort, President-elect Trump’s former campaign chairman, is heavily involved in helping to select members of Trump’s incoming administration, two sources with knowledge of the Trump presidential transition told the Daily Beast.
From the publication:
As a lobbyist, Manafort is particularly concerned with decisions the president-elect might make that will affect his industry, [a] former [campaign] official explained. “A guy like Manafort tries to make sure that the government is as comfortable for business as possible. He wants names he knows on every door.”
“He’s not worried as much about who’s the secretary of HHS,” the former official added, “as he is about who’s the secretary of HUD.”
Another Trump campaign source who worked alongside Manafort confirmed to The Daily Beast that he is heavily involved in selecting the incoming administration’s “personnel picks.”
A spokesman for the Trump transition didn’t respond to a request for comment as of press time. When The Daily Beast caught up with Manafort sometime later, he would neither confirm nor deny his presence on the Trump transition team.
“I don’t want to get into that,” he said. “I’m here to talk about the campaign, I don’t want to talk about transition.”
When pressed on the issue, he reemphasized, “no comment,” before continuing a conversation with several other people.
When the Daily Beast approached Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway to ask about Manafort’s involvement in the transition, she replied “no comment” before adding that she “can research that and get back to you” and then winking as she walked away.
In April, Franklin Foer documented in Slate Manafort’s extensive history reinventing tyrannical dictators and his work for the pro-Russian political party of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. In August, Manafort was dumped from the Trump campaign amid allegations that he had facilitated an illegal payment from a nonprofit to two lobbying firms “in a way that effectively obscured the foreign political party’s efforts to influence U.S. policy.” That foreign actor was a pro-Yanukovych nonprofit. At the time, Manafort was also accused by the current Ukrainian government of receiving millions of dollars in secret payments from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, reportedly for the purpose of helping to stage pro-Russia protests in the Crimea 10 years ago.
During the campaign, Trump was criticized by Hillary Clinton’s campaign for his repeated praise of dictatorial Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia was reported by U.S. intelligence services to have been behind the hacks of various Democratic Party officials during the campaign. The goal was apparently to impact the U.S. elections in a way that harmed Clinton and helped Trump. Last week, the Washington Post reported how Russia helped promulgate “misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy.” This sophisticated Russian propaganda effort may have helped elect Trump through the spread of disinformation, researchers said.
The news of the return to Trump’s inner circle of Manafort—alleged to have secretly and illegally aided a foreign actor influence American policy in exchange for cash—comes at a time when the president-elect faces his own multifaceted conflicts of interests. Trump refuses to divest his company, even as he has essentially admitted to seeking benefits for his businesses from at least one representative of a foreign government and reportedly more. Even without explicitly seeking such benefits, receiving such benefits from foreign actors is in clear violation of the Constitution. There would be only one potential legal and constitutional remedy for such a violation were it to occur under a Trump presidency, but a Republican Congress seems extremely unlikely to investigate such possible wrongdoing.