By Mark Hensch - 03-22-17 07:19 AM EDT
Paul Manafort, who worked as President Trump's campaign manager in 2016, secretly worked to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin's government a decade ago, according to a new report.
Manafort partnered with a Russian billionaire and crafted a political strategy for undermining anti-Russian sentiment across former Soviet republics, according to The Associated Press.
The AP reported that Manafort proposed the strategy as early as June 2005, ultimately signing a $10 million annual contract with Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska in 2006.
The AP added that it confirmed Manafort's ties with Deripaska, a close Putin ally, with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records it obtained.
"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] will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government."
Manafort told the AP there was nothing "inappropriate or nefarious" about his work with Deripaska, which spanned several nations.
"My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russian political interests," he said, adding suggestions otherwise are part of a "smear campaign" against him.
FBI Director James Comey on Monday confirmed the bureau is probing Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential race, including possible collusion between Moscow and members of Trump's campaign. The bombshell revelation has brought new scrutiny to Manafort and other former Trump campaign officials with possible ties to Russia.