Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort secretly worked to benefit Putin, report says

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort made millions secretly working for a Russian billionaire on influencing "politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States," towards the end goal of benefiting Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a new report released early Wednesday morning by the Associated Press.

This news, as the AP reports, seems to contradict statements by both Manafort and President Donald Trump's administration that Manafort had never worked to aid the Russian government.

Manafort had said in the past that, despite known connections to Russian billionaires believed to be close to Putin, he had "never had a relationship with the Russian government," as NBC News reported in August.

But the new AP report reveals that, despite Manafort's claims, records show that, beginning around June 2005, Manafort worked with Russian billionaire and close Putin ally Oleg Deripaska to consult on strategies to benefit Russian political interests in the U.S. and around the world.

RELATED: Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations

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Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.

Michael Flynn

Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.

Sergey Kislyak

Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.

Roger Stone

Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”

Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report read.

James Comey

Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.

Carter Page

Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.

J.D. Gordon

Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.

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In a memo to Deripaska in 2005, Manafort described strategies to "greatly benefit the Putin government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success." Manafort reportedly lobbied for Russian interests in Washington and also proposed serving Russian interests by building "long term relationships" with journalists in the west.

According to the AP, Manafort was reportedly paid "tens of millions of dollars" in secret payments from Deripaska that kept coming until as late as 2009.

Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign in August, but this new report is just another strike against the Trump administration amid a flood of accusations about connections to Russia. While testifying before Congress on Monday, FBI director James Comey confirmed that Trump and his campaign are currently under investigation for potential dealings with Russia during the U.S. election.

On Monday, in the wake of those congressional hearings on Russia's role in the 2016 election, White House press secretary Sean Spicer attempted to create distance between Manafort and the Trump administration. Notably, he said that Manafort "played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time," despite the fact that Manafort was Trump's campaign chairman.

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