The AP drew another line in Trump's connect-the-dots puzzle today. We already knew that former campaign chair Paul Manafort had worked for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians. Now we know that he secretly worked on behalf of the Putin regime as well.
Manafort's intermediary was Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who was "among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis," according to U.S. diplomatic cables. In 2005, Manafort pitched Deripaska on an audacious plan to "greatly benefit the Putin Government." Building on his work for Ukraine, he proposed to expand Russian influence in other former Soviet Republics by lobbying "the highest levels of the U.S. government — the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department." Deripaska ultimately awarded Manafort a $10 million contract, paid not to his public consulting firm but to an obscure corporation registered out of Manafort's home.
In short, Trump's campaign manager was a paid foreign agent who secretly represented Russia's interests. Yet there was no contact, we have been told, between the Trump campaign and Putin regime. Right.
Let's look back at the timeframe, specifically March 2016 when Manafort joined the Trump campaign...
3/19/16: State-backed Russian hackers penetrated the email account of John Podesta, chair of the Clinton campaign.
3/28/16: Nine days after the hack, Trump confirmed to the New York Times that he had hired Paul Manafort, who became the unpaid chair of the Trump campaign.
3/31/16: Twelve days after the hack, Trump met with foreign policy advisors at the new Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., where they discussed the Republican Party's position on arming Ukraine against pro-Russian rebels. According to advisor J.D. Gordon, Trump personally opposed this language in the RNC platform because "he didn't want to go to 'World War Three' over Ukraine."
Perhaps this is all just coincidence. Perhaps Manafort cut ties to Putin before joining the Trump campaign. Perhaps Trump's sudden specific interest in the GOP's Ukraine position was just the whim of a mercurial mind. Perhaps former MI6 agent Christopher Steele's allegations that "the Trump team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue" and that "This was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate's campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT," are fabrications.
It's possible that Manafort and Trump are perfectly innocent. But is it plausible?