New corruption allegations lodged in Ukraine against President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, have thrust Manafort back into the forefront of ongoing scrutiny over whether the Trump team coordinated with the Russian government to influence the U.S. election.
The allegations were disclosed Tuesday at a news conference by a Ukrainian lawmaker who said he had obtained documents showing that Manafort had attempted to hide payments he had received from the party of Ukraine’s former president, who is living in Russia and wanted on corruption charges in his home country.
A spokesman for Manafort called the claims “baseless” and said some of the documents released Tuesday appeared to be fabricated because the letterhead and signatures did not match those belonging to Manafort.
The spectacle in Kiev came just hours after FBI Director James B. Comey confirmed the existence of a federal probe into possible connections between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.
It also followed an apparent effort by the White House to distance Trump from the man who helped lead his campaign during five critical months into last summer, with White House press secretary Sean Spicer declaring Monday that Manafort had played a “limited role for a very limited amount of time” in the campaign.
Manafort, 67, a longtime lobbyist and Republican strategist, was hired by the Trump campaign in March 2016, a time when Trump was winning primaries but feared he could still lose the nomination if his team failed to properly master arcane convention rules and wrangle votes from Republican delegates. In May, he was named the campaign’s chairman.
From the start, there was focus on Manafort’s ties to pro-Russian figures, given Trump’s repeated calls to forge closer relations to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s emerging role over the summer in seeking to meddle in the U.S. election.
U.S. intelligence officials have said that the Kremlin orchestrated the politically damaging hacks of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
Manafort had done business with Putin-aligned business titans and worked in Ukraine for former president Viktor Yanukovych’s political party starting in 2004. Yanukovych fled the country in 2014 amid violent street protests.
The issue of Ukraine’s relationship with Russia was a point of contention during the campaign, with Trump expressing openness to consider easing U.S. sanctions on Moscow that had been imposed after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Manafort resigned as Trump’s campaign chairman in August, after the New York Times reported that his name appeared in a “black ledger” that showed he was paid $12.7 million in secret cash payments from Yanukovych’s party. Manafort has denied receiving the payments and said he is the victim of political infighting in Ukraine.
Now, Manafort has come under scrutiny in an FBI investigation into possible foreign corruption involving Ukrainian politics, according to people familiar with the matter. The Ukraine corruption investigation is related to the broader counterintelligence investigation into alleged contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials, these people said.