Manafort Had a Deep Bag of Political Tricks for His Ukrainian Client

(Bloomberg) -- Paul Manafort’s bag of tricks was even deeper than billed.

In the years before Manafort became Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, he schemed to plant murder allegations about an opponent to bolster his Ukrainian client. He enlisted someone in the Israeli government to help brand that opponent, and by extension a senior Obama administration official, as anti-Semitic. His pro-Ukrainian message was carried all the way to the Oval Office by secret lobbyists.

Those details emerged in documents filed in court on Friday, when Manafort provided a dramatic turn to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling. Pleading guilty in Washington, Manafort will now cooperate with prosecutors, offering a potential window on the Trump campaign.

As he does so, the filings on Friday give a more detailed look at how Manafort paired ground-level subterfuge, international networking and high-stakes politics in Ukraine. His work was in the service of Ukraine’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych, whose administration sent a previous prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, to jail.

In 2012, Manafort orchestrated a scheme to have what he characterized as “obama jews" apply pressure on the administration to disavow Tymoshenko, whose jail sentence in 2011 was widely condemned as politically motivated. He sought to plant stories that an Obama cabinet member was supporting anti-Semitism by advocating for Tymoshenko, who had formed a political alliance with a Ukraine party that espoused anti-Semitic views.

Manafort coordinated privately with a “senior Israeli government official” to issue a written statement publicizing the narrative, which he then worked to disseminate in the U.S. press.

That may have been a response to an October 2012 New York Times op-ed article co-bylined by Hillary Clinton, then the U.S. secretary of state, in support of Tymoshenko.

"I have someone pushing it on the NY Post. Bada bing bada boom,” Manafort wrote to an associate. "The Jewish community will take this out on Obama on election day if he does nothing."

It’s not clear from the filings that Manafort succeeded in placing an article in the Post. But shortly after Clinton’s comment, a Breitbart news article quoted an unnamed “prominent Jewish leader” who accused her of creating “a neo-Nazi Frankenstein by issuing a de facto endorsement of Mrs. Tymoshenko and her choices.”

‘Plant Some Stink’

Manafort hatched another plan the next year. “My goal is to plant some stink on Tymo,” Manafort wrote, describing an effort that should have “no fingerprints.” He suggested planting news stories alleging that Tymoshenko had paid for the murder of a Ukrainian official.

Manafort ran some of his efforts through a collection of former European heads of state he called the Hapsburg Group. "It is very important we have no connection” to such stories, Manafort wrote on May 16, 2013.

On that same day, according to prosecutors, a Hapsburg Group member was part of a delegation that met in the Oval Office with the president and vice president, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Prosecutors say the shadow lobbyist, who they didn’t identify, didn’t disclose his lobbying agenda. The lobbyist reported to Manafort that he had delivered a message to the White House on Ukraine.

A lobbyist reported back to Manafort that the Hapbsurg Group member had delivered the message of not letting “Russians Steal Ukraine from the West."

That would have dovetailed with Manafort’s efforts to cast Ukraine as building a "rule of law" democracy that complied with western demands. In a Feb. 24, 2013 memo, which is attached to the court filings, Manafort wrote, "I propose to reinforce the key geopolitical messaging of how ‘Europe and the U.S. should not risk losing Ukraine to Russia’ through an intensive 60-day Hapsburg activity phase.”

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