Paul Manafort on "Meet The Press" in April, 2016, when he was HARDLY DOING ANYTHING for the Trump campaign.

Did you, in the very early days of the Trump Russia scandal, fall under the impression that former (unpaid!) Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was the most boring guy in the whole story? Like hey, some of us build ships in bottles, others do weird business with pro-Russia Ukrainian politicians. WHATEVER. But your impression of Manafort as "boring" was clearly ERRONEOUS FACTS, because the AP has a big scoop about how Manafort was in fact paid $10 MILLION A YEAR to work to help "influence the US" for Vladimir Putin's Russia, because that's a really normal thing for the campaign chair of a US American presidential candidate to do:

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Here's a time Manafort denied his ties with Russians, back in January, telling the New York Times any suggestion he had even had "interactions" with the Russian government is a "Democrat Party dirty trick completely false." Using his verbs this time, he also stated, "I have never had any relationship with the Russian government or any Russian officials. I was never in contact with anyone, or directed anyone to be in contact with anyone." But maybe he was just lying by omission about a country where everybody who's anybody seems to be some kind of front for Putin's regime. It was just this billionaire dude "Oleg," who happens to be one of Putin's BFFs:

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.

TEN. MILLION. DOLLARS. PER. YEAR. This Russian billionaire dude paid Trump's first campaign chair TEN. MILLION. DOLLARS. PER. YEAR. And just for hatching a plan to "influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government," as the AP puts it. And in case you think the AP is over-reacting here, it prints a memo Manafort wrote in 2005, to Big Oleg, his Russian pal:

"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."

So who is this Oleg Deripaska guy? Oh, just a member of Putin's very closest inner circle. The AP cites State Department cables from 2006 that called him "among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis," and also a dude who just travels EVERYWHERE with Putin. Now maybe traveling everywhere with Putin means nothing nefarious -- like maybe Oleg The Bow Leg (we don't know if he has a bow leg) is the only guy in all of Russia with a selfie stick, and Putin just DIES INSIDE if he doesn't get good selfies.

But it wasn't all fun and games for Manafort and Deripaska. According to the AP, a 2014 court case in the Cayman Islands shows that Manafort embezzled around $19 million of Deripaska's money, that Manafort was supposed to invest for him. Grifters gonna grift, you know.

So did Manafort register as a foreign agent for all this work he did? Nah bro, eff that.

And what does the White House think about all this? Well, Mike Huckabee's daughter and White House spokeslady Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the AP, "We do not feel it's appropriate to comment on someone who is not an employee at the White House," because the president never likes to talk about people who aren't employees, certainly not on Twitter or anything like that. Her hilarious jokester daddy must be so proud of her.

Also, Press Secretary Sean Spicer didn't want to talk about it, when confronted by NBC's Peter Alexander on Wednesday morning:

Good messaging, guys. It's like you're reading from a script.

But wait! Did Spicer not yip-yap about Manafort during his Monday press briefing, the same day as the Comey hearing that confirmed that Trump 'n' Pals are in fact under FBI investigation for their ties to Russia, and also that Trump's "wire tapp" lies are, in fact, bullshit? Yes, he did! He said Manafort had played a "very limited role" in the campaign -- he was merely responsible for "daily operations of the campaign as well as an expanded $20 million budget, hiring decisions, advertising, and media strategy" -- in the same breath as he said disgraced foreign agent/former national security adviser Michael Flynn was just a "volunteer." It's weird how when really damning news comes out about a Trumper's bad connections with Russia, the regime suddenly is all, "I did not have sex with that woman." (SIDENOTE: on Monday night, Nixon's lawyer John Dean appeared on MSNBC's "All In With Chris Hayes" program and said the Nixon White House did THE SAME THING TO HIM when he came forward during Watergate. He concluded the Trump White House is in "cover up mode," and he would know!)

Also, contra Spicer's insistence that Paul Manafort is just some silly so-and-so, the Daily Beast reported in November that Manafort was right back up in Trump Tower (WHERE HE LIVES), advising the Trump transition team. Did he ever really go anywhere? Pffffffffft.

So, this story of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort getting $10 MILLION A YEAR from a Russian billionaire closely tied to Putin, to do things that benefited Putin's government, is pretty weird, ain't it?  As they say on the internet, READ THE WHOLE THING.

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[AP / New York Times]

Evan Hurst

Evan Hurst is the senior editor of Wonkette, which means he is the boss of you, unless you are Rebecca, who is boss of him. His dog Lula is judging you right now.

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