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FBI Investigates Former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort's Ties To Russia

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As President Trump nears his 100th day in office, questions over his campaign's ties to Russia continue to dog him. Among the people who have come under investigation, Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Manafort spent years advising foreign governments. And as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, those activities are now drawing scrutiny.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: The White House has tried to downplay Paul Manafort's role in last year's campaign. But between March and August, he was a familiar face on cable TV. Here he was in an interview on CNN defending Trump's economic strategy.

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PAUL MANAFORT: Jobs are going to come back to America. Manufacturing is going to benefit again. The coal industry is going to benefit again.

ZARROLI: Manafort's appointment as campaign chairman was a surprise. He had played important roles in the Ford and Reagan campaigns, but in recent decades, he's been a partner in a powerful global consulting firm. Its clients include a dictator such as Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and shady political figures such as Jonas Savimbi of Angola. But Manafort's most important client was the pro-Russian Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort played a pivotal role in Yanukovych's career, advising him on policy and campaign strategy. The Ukrainian leader even began to dress like Manafort.

ANDERS ASLUND: He changed Yanukovych's style. He started wearing the same kind of suits, had the same hair style with the hair combed backwards.

ZARROLI: Anders Aslund of the Atlantic Council says Manafort made millions from his work in Ukraine.

ASLUND: The grapevine said that he was paid $9 million or $10 million a year. We haven't seen these amounts of money being presented in any official papers. And the question is where they actually went.

ZARROLI: One place they appear to have gone was into New York City real estate. Between 2006 and 2013, Manafort purchased several New York properties in cash, and he teamed up with a Russian oligarch trying to buy a Manhattan hotel. He also had close ties to another oligarch named Oleg Deripaska. These ties have now been featured in campaign ads paid for by a liberal superPAC.

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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) The FBI has been conducting inquiry of Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, to what some analysts call disturbing ties to two Russian oligarchs.

ZARROLI: Today, Ukrainian investigators are looking into whether the payments to Manafort were legal. They say Manafort's name was listed in a handwritten ledger of secret payments made by Yanukovych associates. Through a spokesman, Manafort has denied receiving any improper payments. But after the secret ledger was revealed last August, Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is investigating whether Manafort's work amounted to lobbying on behalf of a foreign government. Such lobbying is legal, but you have to register with the government first and Manafort never did. Craig Holman of Public Citizen says Manafort may be allowed to register retroactively, but if he does, he'll have to provide a highly detailed account of his foreign ties over the years.

CRAIG HOLMAN: Having essentially a day-by-day diary of what Manafort was up to would certainly provide the public and law enforcement officials with the type of information to get underneath the hood and see what's going on here.

ZARROLI: That would help shed light on Manafort's work in recent decades and help answer some key questions about a man who played a major role in the Trump campaign for five months last year. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUBLIME SONG, "THANX DUB") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.