Trump campaign chairman secretly worked for Russian billionaire

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Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin HeinrichDem leaders give centrists space on Gorsuch Lawmakers call for pilot program to test for energy sector vulnerabilities The Hill's Whip List: 32 Dems are against Trump's Supreme Court nominee MORE (D-N.M.) wants former President Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee over reports that he helped advance Russian President Vladimir Putin's interests a decade ago.

In a prepared statement, Heinrich said he was alarmed by reports claiming Manafort "created and then sold the Russians what appears to be a game plan to undermine democracy and further the interests of the Russian government - including inside the United States".

In the 2014 case, Manafort used Cypriot shell companies as part of a almost $19 million deal with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska to purchase Ukrainian cable television provider Black Sea Cable.

Manafort signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006 and maintained a business relationship until at least 2009.

The AP's reporting was based on interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and confidential business records it obtained that included strategy memoranda and records showing worldwide wire transfers for millions of dollars.

Manafort chaired the Trump campaign from March 2016 until August, when he resigned amid revelations about his work for a Ukrainian political party aligned with Russian Federation. US diplomatic cables from 2006 described Deripaska as "among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis" and "a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin's trips overseas".

Manafort was Trump's unpaid campaign chairman from March until August previous year, during the critical run-up to the Republican National Convention.

Democrats on the House and Senate intelligence committees said the new revelations will feature in the congressional investigations.

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"If you look at the questions that exist about coordination with Russian intelligence, Paul Manafort is likely to be at the center of those questions", he said. "This is now dam-breaking with water flushing out with all kinds of entanglements". Trump asked Manafort to resign after AP revealed that Manafort had orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation until 2014 on behalf of Ukraine's ruling pro-Russian political party.

It is just the latest report pointing to a link between Manafort and Russian interests.

Federal prosecutors became interested in Manafort's activities years ago as part of a broad investigation to recover stolen Ukrainian assets after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych there in early 2014. The Moscow office never opened.

There is nothing inherently illicit about using multiple companies as Mr Manafort was doing, but it is unclear why he would have been involved with companies in Cyprus, known for its history of money-laundering before joining the European Union, with unclear sources of the money flowing into them and with such secrecy surrounding the firms' connections to Mr Manafort. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the investigation are confidential.

Manafort has dismissed the investigations as politically motivated and misguided, and said he never worked for Russian interests.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is holding open hearings Thursday on Russian interference in the US election through technology and disinformation, with a slate of academic and cybersecurity experts scheduled to testify, including former NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander. His name was mentioned 28 times during the hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, mostly about his work in Ukraine but no-one mentioned Mr Deripaska. At the White House press briefing Monday, press secretary Sean Spicer downplayed Manafort's involvement in the campaign, saying that he "played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time". Manafort told a colleague this year that he continues to speak to Trump by telephone.

Manafort told the AP that allegations of his political collaboration with Deripaska were "inappropriate or nefarious" and a "smear campaign". Manafort's former business partner in eastern Europe, Rick Gates, has been seen inside the White House on a number of occasions.

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