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Associated Press Investigation Says Paul Manafort Worked With Russian Billionaire

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There are new allegations surfacing this morning about President Trump's former campaign manager and his connections with Russia. It all started to come into public view last summer, when Paul Manafort's name showed up on a secret ledger in Ukraine. It showed that Manafort had been paid more than $12 million by a pro-Russian political party for work he had done on its behalf. Manafort said the ledger was fake. Donald Trump fired him.

This week, a member of Ukraine's Parliament released documents that he says show Manafort tried to hide those payments. Manafort says those documents are also forgeries. Now comes a report this morning from The Associated Press, which says Paul Manafort secretly worked with a Russian billionaire to support Russian interests. Chad Day is one of the AP reporters who worked on the story. And he's with us in the studio. Thanks for coming in.

CHAD DAY: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Explain what you have learned about Paul Manafort.

DAY: Right. So what we've learned is that according to documents that we've reviewed, Paul Manafort secretly worked for a Russian oligarch who wanted him to promote Russian interests. And in particular, he wrote a memo that outlines this kind of vast plan for him to promote Russian interests in the former Soviet republics and also to specifically benefit the Putin government.

MARTIN: And when you say promote Russian interests, what - how - what does that mean specifically?

DAY: They were looking to undermine these anti-Russian movements that were going on in some of these former Soviet republics at the time. And this actually occurred in 2005, while Paul Manafort was working in Ukraine.

MARTIN: This is not just about Manafort doing work in the former Soviet republics, though. Your reporting shows that this was about trying to work on behalf of Russian interests inside the United States.

DAY: So there was a lobbying campaign that was laid out in this memo. And it was actually - he was kind of basing it off of what he had already started in Ukraine at that time and saying that this kind of campaign that we've organized for Ukraine that we think is actually working could actually work for the Putin government. And he was pitching this to this Russian oligarch, whose name is Oleg Deripaska, who is a close Putin ally.

MARTIN: So what we're learning that's new here - we had already known that Manafort had connections to a Ukrainian former president who had connections to Putin. But what your report shows is that there is a more direct connection between Manafort and Vladimir Putin himself.

DAY: Well, what we're finding is that, you know, this is a Russian oligarch who had very close ties with Vladimir Putin and actually, according to some WikiLeaks cables that were released, is known as being one of the top two or three oligarchs that are very close to him. And that what we know is that - from these documents - that Paul Manafort was willing and actually pitching actively to promote Russian interests. He was open to doing that, particularly at a time - this is 2005, 2006 - whenever the U.S.-Russia relations had kind of soured.

MARTIN: Why does any of this matter? Is any of that activity illegal? I mean, it also happened a long time ago.

DAY: Well, we're still trying to learn a lot more about this as we kind of unpack a lot of what we're - you know, we have a lot of other questions we'd like to have answered. But the reason this makes a big, you know, this is a big deal right now is that there are two, you know, congressional hearings or congressional committees that are looking into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

And also, the FBI has an active investigation. And so, you know, the more that we can learn about Paul Manafort and his motivations - Paul Manafort was a key and close Trump adviser during the campaign and actually even recently has said that he still speaks with President Trump.

MARTIN: We should note the White House has tried to diminish his role. Sean Spicer, the press secretary, said Monday Manafort played a very, quote, "limited role for a limited amount of time." But as you note, Manafort was a consultant to Trump back in March, 2016, and ran the entire campaign last summer.

DAY: That's correct.

MARTIN: I want to ask you about your sourcing, if I may. Your story relies on anonymous sources, whom you identify as several people familiar with the payments and business records obtained by the AP. Obviously, in a story of this kind of significance, there's been a lot of conversation about anonymous sources and how we can trust them.

DAY: Right, absolutely.

MARTIN: What - could you just explain what the AP's policy regarding the use of anonymous sources is?

DAY: So the AP's policy on use of anonymous sources is that we do not actually quote any kind of opinion. Whenever someone talks to us and we guarantee anonymity, it has to be factual information that we can corroborate. And I should note about this story, it's not just based on anonymous sources.

There are stories that are out there that, you know, sometimes are based on that entirely. In this case, this is largely based - the bedrock of this story is based on documents that we've authenticated and documents that have been corroborated through other sources.

MARTIN: Chad Day of The Associated Press. He was part of a team of reporters who broke a story this morning about new revelations of Paul Manafort's alleged connections to Russia. Thank you so much for coming in this morning.

DAY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.