Manafort firm received Ukraine ledger payout
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WASHINGTON — Last August, a handwritten ledger surfaced in Ukraine with dollar amounts and dates next to the name of Paul Manafort, who was then Donald Trump's campaign chairman.
Ukrainian investigators called it evidence of off-the-books payments from a pro-Russian political party — and part of a larger pattern of corruption under the country's former president. Manafort, who worked for the party as an international political consultant, has publicly questioned the ledger's authenticity.
Now, financial records obtained by the Associated Press confirm that at least $1.2 million in payments listed in the ledger next to Manafort's name were actually received by his consulting firm in the United States. They include payments in 2007 and 2009, providing the first evidence that Manafort's firm received at least some money listed in the so-called Black Ledger.
The two payments came years before Manafort became involved in Trump's campaign but for the first time bolster the credibility of the ledger. US prosecutors have been investigating Manafort's work in Eastern Europe as part of a larger anti-corruption probe.
Separately, Manafort is also under scrutiny as part of congressional and FBI investigations into possible contacts between Trump associates and Russia's government under President Vladimir Putin during the 2016 presidential campaign. The payments detailed in the ledger and confirmed by the documents are unrelated to the election.
In a statement Tuesday, Manafort did not deny that his firm received the money but said ''any wire transactions received by my company are legitimate payments for political consulting work that was provided. I invoiced my clients and they paid via wire transfer, which I received through a US bank.''
Manafort noted that he agreed to be paid according to his ''clients' preferred financial institutions and instructions.''
''Mr. Manafort's work in Ukraine was totally open and appropriate, and wire transfers for international work are perfectly legal,'' Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, said in a statement.
He noted that Manafort had never been paid in cash, adding that Manafort's exclusive use of wire transfers for payment undermines the descriptions of the ledger last year given by Ukrainian anti-corruption authorities and a lawmaker that the ledger detailed cash payments.
Previously, Manafort and Maloni have maintained the ledger was fabricated and said no public evidence existed that Manafort or others received payments recorded in it.
In the documents, however, two payments received by Manafort aligned with the ledger: one for $750,000 that a Ukrainian lawmaker said last month was part of a money-laundering effort that should be investigated by US authorities. The other was $455,249 and also matched a ledger entry.
The newly obtained records also expand the global scope of Manafort's financial activities related to his Ukrainian political consulting, because both payments came from companies once registered in the Central American country of Belize. Last month, the AP reported that the US government has examined Manafort's financial transactions in the Mediterranean country of Cyprus as part of its probe.
Federal prosecutors have been looking into Manafort's work for years as part of an effort to recover Ukrainian assets stolen after the 2014 ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia. No charges have been filed as part of the investigation.
Manafort, a longtime Republican political operative, led Trump's presidential campaign from March until August last year when the candidate asked him to resign. The resignation came after a tumultuous week in which The New York Times revealed that Manafort's name appeared in the Ukraine ledger — although the newspaper said at the time that officials were unsure whether Manafort actually received the money — and after the AP separately reported that he had orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation until 2014 on behalf of Ukraine's pro-Russian Party of Regions.
Officials with the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau have said they believe the ledger is genuine. But they have previously noted they have no way of knowing whether Manafort received the money listed next to his name. The bureau said it is not investigating Manafort because he is not a Ukrainian citizen.
Also Wednesday, one of the Washington lobbying firms involved in that covert campaign, the Podesta Group Inc., formally registered with the Justice Department under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act. In doing so, it acknowledged that its work at the time could have principally benefited the Ukrainian government. The firm, run by the brother of Hillary Clinton presidential campaign chairman John Podesta, reported being paid more than $1.2 million for its efforts. It cited unspecified ''information brought to light in recent months'' and conversations with Justice Department employees as the reason for its decision.