From 2003 to 2008, Manafort and his firm worked for Deripaska across Europe—in Montenegro, Georgia, and Ukraine. Over that time, the consultant and the client also became business partners. Deripaska invested millions in a private-equity fund that Manafort established, with the intent of buying assets across the former Soviet Union. Based on various court filings and lawsuits, we know that the relationship went very badly. In these documents, Deripaska suggests that Manafort might have stolen his money. And based on the special counsel’s filings, we also know that Manafort owed Deripaska even more money in the form of unpaid loans. Instead of making an effort to settle these large debts, Deripaska says that Manafort simply stopped returning his messages.
Manafort finally reached out to Deripaska, just after he joined Donald Trump’s campaign. In emails obtained by The Atlantic that Paul Manafort traded with an aide, Manafort proposed giving Deripaska special access to the campaign, with the apparent hope of making his debts disappear. We don’t know what became of Manafort’s outreach to Deripaska. Perhaps it yielded nothing. Deripaska claims that he never received messages from Manafort in 2016. But it’s also worth watching hidden video footage of Deripaska sitting on his yacht with a top Putin official, procured by the Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny. The video captured a meeting held in August 2016, two weeks before Manafort resigned as campaign chair. According to Navalny, the video lends credibility to the theory that Deripaska might have been a crucial intermediary between Manafort and the Kremlin.
The Curious Case of Konstantin Kilimnik
Robert Mueller has periodically suggested that Manafort’s top aide was an active agent of Russian intelligence in 2016. When I profiled Konstantin Kilimnik earlier this year, an old colleague of his quoted Manafort as describing him as “my Russian brain.” Is this connection to Russian intelligence just a meaningless coincidence? Kilimnik was Manafort’s primary interface with Deripaska.
One of the most shocking revelations from the Mueller investigation is the suggestion that Manafort’s longtime aide is a pawn of Russian intelligence.
Paul Manafort’s recent career could be read as a rolling series of nadirs. One of those low points was his departure from the Trump campaign on August 19, 2016. He left after The New York Times reported that Manafort was receiving off-the-books payments from his Ukrainian clients. The very day that Manafort resigned, he created a new LLC called Summerbreeze. In the months that followed, the LLC began receiving millions in loans from financial institutions with ties to Trump. Why would these lenders give cash to Manafort given the press attention he was receiving and his clearly troubled finances? (In the previous Manafort trial, the special counsel alleged that Manafort promised to help the head of one of these banks obtain a job in the Trump administration.)