Hillary Clinton’s staff called on Donald Trump to come clean about the extent of the ties between Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and the Kremlin after a New York Times report suggested he may have received payments from Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian former president of Ukraine.
Yanukovych, who was ejected from power by a popular uprising in early 2014, had engaged Manafort as a consultant on how to burnish his image in the West. The NYT said it found Manafort listed as a recipient of $12.7 million in secret payments documented in a ‘black ledger’ belonging to Yanukovych that came to light after he fled.
The NYT did not offer any proof of Manafort having received the funds and Manafort strongly denied he had acted improperly.
“I have never received a single ‘off-the-books’ cash payment…nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia,” he said in a statement. He added that his work in Ukraine ended in October 2014, after elections there.
The Times also said that Ukrainian prosecutors were investigating a number of offshore shell companies that appear to have been used by Yanukovych’s inner circle, including one that Manafort helped set up with a view to transferring ownership of Ukrainian cable TV assets to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian businessman loyal to President Vladimir Putin.
Related: Donald Trump’s Long, Fruitless Quest for Business in Russia
“We have learned of more troubling connections between Donald Trump’s team and pro-Kremlin elements in Ukraine,” Clinton’s press secretary Robby Mook said in a statement issued late Sunday. “Given the pro-Putin policy stances adopted by Donald Trump and the recent Russian government hacking and disclosure of Democratic Party records, Donald Trump has a responsibility to disclose campaign chair Paul Manafort’s and all other campaign employees’ and advisers’ ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump’s employees or advisers are currently representing and or being paid by them.”
Trump himself had attracted attention over how he could profit from Russian hacking, inviting its intelligence services to find the thousands of e-mails deleted from the private e-mail server which Clinton had used extensively while Secretary of State.
Manafort has a long track record of helping foreign rulers with questionable records on human rights burnish their image in the West. Former clients of his consulting firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly include the deposed President of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos, Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and Angolan warlord Jonas Savimbi.
The NYT‘s report comes at a time when the Democratic Party is reeling from hacks by operators believed (but not proven) to have ties to the Russian government. The party believes that the hackers are leaking information tactically in order to influence the election. Over the weekend, the blog Guccifer 2.0 published the personal cellphone numbers and e-mail addresses of nearly 200 current and former House Democrats and their staff, starting a wave of harassing e-mails and text messages, according to The Wall Street Journal. A more damaging leak last month had shown how Clinton had persuaded the Democratic National Convention to skew the primary field against her rival, Bernie Sanders.