AP Reporter on Manafort Scoop: He Was 'Gun for Hire' to Advance Russian Interests
Shep Smith spoke today to one of the two AP reporters who broke the story that Donald Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Vladimir Putin a decade ago.
Jeff Horwitz and Chad Day wrote in the piece that Manafort "proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics."
The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort that he never worked for Russian interests.
Manafort proposed in confidential strategy plans as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.
Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP.
Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.
"We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success," Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, "will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government."
Horwitz said this afternoon that Manafort has long stated that he only worked in Eastern Europe as an adviser to a Ukrainian political party. But Horwitz said Deripaska is "extremely close" to Putin and traveled regularly with him.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday that Manafort had a "limited role" in the campaign, while the White House said the new reporting is only on older work done by Manafort.
Horwitz said the new report shows Manafort's willingness to work on behalf of Putin and advance the Kremlin's interests.
"He was a gun for hire that was sort of willing to do this sort of work and had those contacts," he said, adding that Manafort served as Trump's campaign chairman during a key five-month period that included the RNC.
Manafort denied there was anything nefarious about his work, calling the allegations about his ties to Putin a "smear campaign."
"I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments. My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russia's political interests," he said.
Watch the full discussion above.