GOP nominee Donald Trump's freshly demoted campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, allegedly helped a former Ukrainian government allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin to lobby U.S. lawmakers without disclosing the conflict of interest -- a possible felony.
On August 17, The Associated Press broke the news that several anonymous sources who had been involved in two U.S. lobbying firms have alleged that Manafort was involved with helping the former Ukrainian Party of Regions make payments to two U.S. lobbying groups.
Two top members of the Trump campaign, Manafort and Rick Gates, had been consultants for the former Party of Regions President Viktor F. Yanukovych, who was ousted in 2014 after a popular uprising.
According to sources, Manafort and Gates were also coordinating with a pro-Yanukovych nonprofit, the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, which had members of the Party of Regions on its board of directors.
Manafort and Gates had allegedly helped the nonprofit establish a relationship with two lobbying firms based in Washington, D.C.: the Podesta Group Inc. and Mercury LLC.
Over the course of two years, the nonprofit paid the two lobbying firms a combined total of $2.2 million to advocate on behalf of the Yanukovych government to Washington, D.C. lawmakers.
An anonymous former employee of the Podesta Group alleged that Gates himself had explained in April 2012 that the nonprofit was a means of dispersing money in lobbying efforts for the Yanukovych government without accountability.
If true, Manafort and Gates’ activities could be in violation of U.S. federal law, which mandates that any U.S. lobbyists must disclose to the Department of Justice (DOJ) whether or not they represent foreign leaders and foreign political parties.
Skirting this regulation could result in a prison sentence of up to five years and a $250,000 fine.
The allegations have emerged shortly after the newly formed Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau discovered a ledger recording $12.7 million in cash payments made out to Manafort by the former Party of Regions, The New York Times reports.
It is unclear whether or not Manafort had ever received such payments, but his name allegedly appeared in the ledger 22 separate times over the course of five documented years in illegal payments.
On August 16, the Trump campaign announced that it would be making two new dramatic hires: Breitbart News CEO Stephen Bannon as the campaign chief executive and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager, The Washington Post reports.
Manafort will retain his status as the Trump campaign chairman, but his role is considered to have been effectively neutered. Reportedly, the GOP nominee grew frustrated with Manafort’s efforts to reign in his controversial rhetoric and wanted to surround himself with staffers who would be more comfortable with his off-the-cuff campaign style.