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New emails published by The Atlantic on Monday offer a more detailed look at Paul Manafort’s attempt to use his role on President Donald Trump’s campaign team to curry favor with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who’s an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Manafort reportedly wrote to Konstantin Kilimnik, his longtime employee and a Russian-Ukrainian operative, on April 11, 2016, asking whether he had shown “our friends” the media coverage of him since his hiring as a senior campaign strategist.
“I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?” Manafort reportedly wrote.
“Absolutely,” replied Kilimnik, who has come under FBI scrutiny over his purported ties to Russian intelligence. “Every article.”
“How do we use to get whole,” Manafort responded. “Has OVD operation seen?”
Investigators have concluded – and Manafort’s spokesman has not disputed – that “OVD” was a reference to the oligarch’s full name: Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska.
Kilimnik reportedly told Manafort in a later email that he had been “sending everything to Victor, who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD.” Victor was a senior aide to Deripaska, The Atlantic said it confirmed.
The emails offer a more complete picture of the emails exchanged between Manafort and Kilimnik after Manafort joined the Trump campaign – and how much Manafort still coveted Deripaska’s approval years after a falling-out over a failed business venture.
‘Debt cancellation is much harder to track’
Bloomberg reported last week that Manafort had offered “private briefings” about the campaign to Deripaska in hopes of resolving a years-long business dispute involving a failed Ukrainian TV company called Black Sea Cable.
Jason Maloni, a representative for Manafort, declined to comment. But he told The Washington Post earlier this month that Manafort had been trying to leverage his high-level role on the campaign to collect past debts. But it was Manafort who owed Deripaska money, according to the oligarch.
In legal complaints filed in the Cayman Islands in 2014, Deripaska’s representatives claimed he gave Manafort $19 million that year to invest in the project. Manafort all but disappeared without paying Deripaska back when the project fell through, the filings say.
Scott Olson, a recently retired FBI agent who spent years in the bureau’s counterintelligence division, said that offer would have been “a counterintelligence flag.”
“By doing so, he shows not only a willingness to give out campaign information he received in confidence, but also an intent to earn personal income by selling the briefings,” Olson said.
In early 2016, Deripaska’s representatives “openly accused Manafort of fraud and pledged to recover the money from him,” The Associated Press reported. “After Trump earned the nomination, Deripaska’s representatives said they would no longer discuss the case.”
Olson noted that “debt cancellation is much harder to track than payment.”
“Payments leave a paper trail; debt forgiveness does not,” he said. It’s a very effective way to conceal transfer of value and is another CI flag.”
‘Significantly more attention to the campaign’
Manafort reportedly wrote to Kilimnik on July 7, 2016, asking whether there was “any movement” on the Black Sea Cable “issue” with “our friend” – another reference to Deripaska, The Atlantic said it confirmed. Kilimnik recommended Manafort, who was the campaign’s chairman at the time, ignore a Kyiv Post reporter who had asked about the feud, adding later that he was “carefully optimistic on the issue of our biggest interest.”
“Our friend V said there is lately significantly more attention to the campaign in his boss’s mind, and he will be most likely looking for ways to reach out to you pretty soon, understanding all the time sensitivity,” Kilimnik wrote on July 7, The Atlantic reported. “I am more than sure that it will be resolved and we will get back to the original relationship with V.’s boss.”
Kilimnik reportedly wrote to Manafort again on July 29, after Trump had accepted the GOP presidential nomination:
“I met today with the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar several years ago. We spent about 5 hours talking about his story, and I have several important messages from him to you. He asked me to go and brief you on our conversation. I said I have to run it by you first, but in principle I am prepared to do it, provided that he buys me a ticket. It has to do about the future of his country, and is quite interesting.”
Manafort agreed, and they met in New York on August 2.
Manafort was forced to resign just over two weeks later, after The New York Times reported that the pro-Russia political party he had worked for had earmarked him $12.7 million for his work between 2007 and 2012.
Ukrainian prosecutors have since said they’ve found no proof of illicit payments to Manafort, who has said he never collected the payments.
Deripaska and Manafort’s business relationship goes back to at least 2006, when, according to the AP, Deripaska signed a $10 million annual contract with Manafort for a lobbying project in the US that Manafort had said would “greatly benefit the Putin Government.”
Deripaska in March took out quarter-page ads in The Wall Street Journal and The Post announcing that he was “ready to take part in any hearings conducted in the US Congress on this subject in order to defend my reputation and name.”