The best people: Manafort offered to give Kremlin-linked Russian billionaire "private briefings" as Trump campaign chair

Increasingly it seems the Russiagate saga ends for Trump in one of two ways. One: It turns out he’s crooked and hired Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn for the express purpose of carrying out his crooked designs. Two, the more likely and more tragic alternative: He had no crooked designs but lacked the rudimentary good sense not to hire two guys whom he had every reason to know would bring him nothing but trouble.

Odds seem fair right now that the president’s former campaign manager and former national security advisor will both end up being indicted by the prosecutor in charge of the Russiagate investigation. That’s some legacy. And we’re only eight months in.

Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time…

Several of the exchanges, which took place between Manafort and a Kiev-based employee of his international political consulting practice, focused on money that Manafort believed he was owed by Eastern European clients

In one April exchange days after Trump named Manafort as a campaign strategist, Manafort referred to his positive press and growing reputation and asked, “How do we use to get whole?”

“Get whole” is an interesting choice of words. Manafort’s spokesman claims that was a reference to money owed by clients to Manafort. But Manafort famously had some debts of his own. The Times wrote about them in July, in a story titled, “Manafort Was in Debt to Pro-Russia Interests, Cyprus Records Show.” In particular, records obtained by the NYT showed a business based in Cyprus, supposedly owned by Manafort, owed nearly $8 million to a business based in the British Virgin Islands that was connected to … Oleg Deripaska. In 2015, a year before he joined the Trump campaign, Manafort had a lawsuit pending against him in a Virginia court seeking $19 million in damages in unpaid debt. The plaintiff? Oleg Deripaska:

The records, which include details for numerous loans, were certified as accurate by an accounting firm as of December 2015, several months before Mr. Manafort joined the Trump campaign, and were filed with Cyprus government authorities in 2016. The notion of indebtedness on the part of Mr. Manafort also aligns with assertions made in a court complaint filed in Virginia in 2015 by the Russian oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, who claimed Mr. Manafort and his partners owed him $19 million related to a failed investment in a Ukrainian cable television business.

Deripaska stopped pursuing the lawsuit sometime in late 2015. Did Manafort make good on his debts, or did he promise to, ahem, “get whole” with Deripaska later somehow?

Relatedly, David Frum pointed out yesterday in an interview a strange, often overlooked detail about Manafort’s campaign work for Trump: He did it for free. In fact, not only did he work for free, some of his associates worked for free too. It could be that that was just good business savvy by a guy who hadn’t been part of a campaign in years, offering to “intern” for Trump, essentially, knowing that the free press he got from the position would put him back on the map for paid work in Washington. But Manafort’s not a guy known to volunteer his labor; he was richly remunerated for his efforts for Putin’s puppet, Yanukovych, in Ukraine. You don’t need to reach far here to build a more sinister theory: Manafort offered to work for Trump for free because he thought his friends in Russia would pay him handsomely for influence over the Republican nominee’s campaign. He was, theoretically, willing to “get whole” with Deripaska on his debts by doing whatever favors Deripaska and his friends in the Kremlin might need. Including, maybe, collusion in targeting Hillary Clinton?

That’s the worst-case scenario. There’s no evidence that “private briefings” for Deripaska were ever held, notes WaPo. But why were they offered in the first place?

Lefty Chris Hayes asks a fair question too. If Manafort was only interested in the debts owed to him, not debts he owed to others, why was he dangling services like private briefings for Deripaska? It’s the debtor who does favors for the creditor, not vice versa. Even in the best-case scenario, in which Manafort was seeking repayment of debts owed to him, he seems to have been looking to leverage his new fame and access to Trump at a moment when he should have been laser-focused on the campaign. He even went so far as to email his Ukrainian contact from his official Trump campaign email address. According to WaPo, Hope Hicks “was uncomfortable with Manafort’s style and concerned he was not always putting the candidate’s interests first” when he was campaign manager. No farking wonder.

Trump wisely shed himself of Manafort before the election, which may end up being a saving grace in the Russiagate probe. Imagine if this guy had landed a job inside the White House like Mike Flynn did.