Washington: In the middle of Donald Trump's presidential run, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort said he was willing to provide "private briefings" about the campaign to a Russian billionaire the US government considers close to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Manafort's offer was memorialised in an email exchange with a former employee of his political consulting firm in July 2016. It was first reported by The Washington Post, which said portions of Manafort's emails were read to reporters. Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni confirmed to the Associated Press that the email exchanges were legitimate but said no briefings ever occurred.
The email involved an offer for Oleg Deripaska, a wealthy Russian who made his money in the aluminum business. The 7 July 2016 email came a little over a week before the Republican National Convention, while Manafort was leading the Trump campaign's day-to-day operations. It also occurred about a month after Manafort attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower. That meeting was brokered by Donald Trump Jr, who was told in emails that the meeting was part of a Russian government effort to help his father's campaign.
The Manafort email exchange regarding Deripaska is one of thousands of pages of material turned over to congressional committees by the Trump campaign. It is also in the possession of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether there was any coordination between Trump's associates and Russians looking to interfere in the presidential campaign.
Mueller is also probing Manafort's taxes and his foreign banking as part of an investigation related to his consulting work in Ukraine.
Manafort has denied any wrongdoing, saying his work in Ukraine was open and appropriate. He has also denied any involvement in any efforts to undermine the US election on behalf of Russia. Deripaska has denied any involvement with the Trump campaign and said he is willing to testify before congressional committees investigating Russian election interference to defend his reputation and his name.
According to The Washington Post, Manafort wrote the email to a former employee, Konstantin Kilimnik, who had worked for years with him on political consulting in Ukraine. Manafort asked Kilimnik to pass the offer to Deripaska. "If he needs private briefings we can accommodate," Manafort wrote, referring to Deripaska, in the email.
In a statement, Maloni dismissed the correspondence as "innocuous". He said the exchange was part of an effort on Manafort's part to collect money from clients who owed him money. The Post reported that several email exchanges between Manafort and Kilimnik discussed money that Manafort said he was owed by former clients in Eastern Europe.
"It is no secret Manafort was owed money by past clients after his work ended in 2014," Maloni said in the statement.
The email is the first to indicate that Manafort was attempting to reach Deripaska while he was working on the Trump campaign, but it's unclear whether the offer ever reached Deripaska or his representatives.
The Washington Post reported that according to documents detailed to its reporters, there was no evidence Deripaska received the offer.
Attorneys for Deripaska in New York and Washington did not respond to phone messages or emails. Kilimnik did not immediately respond to an email. A phone number previously used by him was not accepting calls.
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Updated Date: Sep 21, 2017 21:07:45 IST