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World

Manafort Offered 'Private Briefings' To Putin Ally, 'Washington Post' Reports

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

New reporting from The Washington Post suggests that Donald Trump's former campaign chair offered private briefings to a Russian billionaire, a billionaire with links to Vladimir Putin. This is the latest wrinkle in a long and murky tale involving Paul Manafort. Manafort is believed to be a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia and the 2016 elections. Carol Leonnig is one of the Washington Post reporters who broke this story last night, and she's with us now.

Good morning, Carol.

CAROL LEONNIG: Good morning, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So who is the Russian billionaire and why was Manafort forward allegedly offering him a briefing?

LEONNIG: So Oleg Deripaska is perhaps one of the richest men in Russia. So he also is a man that Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, had had some business dealings with. He had done some consulting work for Oleg Deripaska. He's a person who's also considered one of the go-to people. If you wanted Putin's ear, Deripaska could be an ally-slash-go between for the president of Russia. And in this case, you have the campaign chairman of the 2016 GOP nominee for the White House wanting to get in good financial graces with that Russian billionaire while he was running Donald Trump's campaign.

KELLY: Is there any evidence that there ever was a briefing?

LEONNIG: No. There's no evidence that it ever happened. And, actually, a spokesperson for Oleg Deripaska told us yesterday that there absolutely was never anything like that. However, what we know about is one side of the conversation, one side which is in the United States where at least Paul Manafort hoped very much to figure out a way to make financial use or - or benefit from his campaign role working for Donald Trump.

KELLY: And I'm sure you reached out to Paul Manafort for comment. What does he say?

LEONNIG: His spokespeople said yesterday that he did have indeed a number of debts, a lot of people owed him money who worked for him in foreign countries - I'm sorry, who he worked for in foreign countries - and that he has made no secret of that. And, you know, the - the salaciousness of the quotes in the emails that we reviewed are, in the words of Manafort's spokespeople, quite innocuous because he was simply trying to get some of those old debts repaid, some of the bills that he was owed. He expected folks to repay him, and that's all that these emails suggest.

KELLY: Have you actually seen these emails back and forth, or you've had them read to you?

LEONNIG: We've had them read to us.

KELLY: OK. And you identify your sources as people familiar with the discussions. Can you say how many?

LEONNIG: Quite a few.

KELLY: Quite a few. What - I mean, there have been so many twists and turns obviously in the Russia story, so many twists and turns with Paul Manafort. What, to you, is the significance of this particular development? Just quickly.

LEONNIG: Mary Louise, you know, what is the question everybody asks all the time? The reason we found this so startling is that central question has been, is there a connection amid all the investigations, is there a connection between Donald Trump's campaign in 2016 and Russian officials or Russian individuals who really had a connection to the Kremlin? You've seen ways in which there have been meetings. You've seen, you know, Donald Trump, Jr. meeting with somebody who was connected in some way.

KELLY: And this is one more link. That's Carol Leonnig, who covers the federal government for The Washington Post.

Carol, thank you.

LEONNIG: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.