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Paul Manafort called Ukrainian election ‘most satisfying’ campaign of career

Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the federal courthouse in Washington in April.
Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the federal courthouse in Washington in April. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

For nearly a decade, Paul Manafort toiled in service of Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych, work that is chronicled in hundreds of documents he is hoping to block jurors at his upcoming federal trial from seeing.

The documents, released by Manafort’s defense Thursday in advance of his trial next week on bank and tax fraud charges, show how political operatives from both sides of the aisle use the lessons they learn on American campaigns for sometimes unsavory foreign clients.

Documents detailing Paul Manafort’s work in Ukraine (Part 1 of 3)

“Having worked campaigns for the last 35 years, this one will be at the top of the list of most satisfying,” Manafort wrote a group of strategists after Yanukovych won a presidential election in 2010.

The group included Tad Devine and Adam Strasberg, both of whom worked on the campaigns of Democratic presidential candidates John F. Kerry and Bernie Sanders.

Manafort goes on trial next week in Alexandria federal court on bank and tax fraud charges. The case stems from the work he did for Yanukovych and his Russia-friendly political party, and they are brought by the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But Manafort is arguing that the details of what he did in Ukraine have no bearing on the charges.

Documents detailing Paul Manafort’s work in Ukraine (Part 2 of 3)

“It is readily apparent that the Special Counsel intends to offer evidence concerning matters that are irrelevant to this tax and bank fraud trial,” his attorneys wrote in the Thursday filing.

The documents date to 2005, when Yanukovych had been forced from power after an election victory deemed fraudulent.

That year, Manafort wrote a strategy memo to Rinat Ahkmetov, a Ukrainian steel magnate who backed Yanukovych’s political party.

Yanukovych’s image was “poisoned . . . as much as the dioxin poisoned the body of Yushchenko,” a reference to Yanukovych’s rival in the 2004 election. Doctors said at the time that Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned; his opponents said he became ill because of alcohol.

The party’s “historical growth,” Manafort added, “was directly related to its ability to dispense favors,” which became impossible when it lost power.

Yet he arranged a flashy rally for Yanukovych that December, with help from Tim Unes, who worked on the Trump campaign, and Bobby Peede, who works in the White House on presidential advance, the documents show.

Yanukovych “has the relationships in Russian [sic] needed to fix the problem created by Yushchenko and his team,” a 2006 memo from Devine and Manafort reads. Surrogates are told to call the country’s leaders naive “to believe the Government could slap Russia in the face and suffer no consequences.”

In a statement from his firm Thursday evening, Devine said he was asked by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III “to assist in the prosecution of their case against Paul Manafort regarding his firm’s work on media consulting on past political campaigns in Ukraine. We have been assured by the Special Counsel’s Office that we have no legal exposure and did not act unlawfully.”

The firm adds, “After the administration of the presidential candidate we had worked for arrested his political opponent, we quit. We then declined additional offers to work on his later campaigns.”

Documents detailing Paul Manafort’s work in Ukraine (Part 3 of 3)

After winning power in 2010, Yanukovych saw his presidential rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, put in prison. In April 2012, Devine declined to join a new campaign for Yanukovych’s party.

“We have once again reached the point in time where we should cast aside all US political work in favor of everyone’s most beloved country — Ukraine,” Manafort’s business partner Richard Gates wrote him.

“I regret that we will not be able to work with you on the election this year,” Devine responded.

But four months later, Devine sent Manafort a suggested campaign memo for Yanukovych’s Party of Regions in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

“I would recommend a roughly 3:1 negative to positive ratio in the advertising,” he wrote.

After Yanukovych was deposed and fled the country in 2014, Devine’s firm discussed with Manafort consulting for a different candidate for $100,000 a month (with a $50,000 victory bonus), the documents show. Nothing appears to have come of the discussions.

In a June 2014 email, Devine said that for $10,000 a day he would do a brief trip to Ukraine to meet with leaders of a new party formed in Yanukovych’s absence.

Strasberg did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The documents also appear to bolster a special counsel case against Manafort in Washington, D.C., federal court, including charges that he acted as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. One document Manafort’s team released is a 2013 memo explaining how a group of European ex-politicians, known as the Hapsburg group, will try to promote Ukraine.

“The Hapsburg team will also do a series of events . . . to also influence key members of the US government through private meetings held at the highest levels.”