Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

The New York Times published a story Sunday detailing Paul Manafort‘s dealings with pro-Russian political forces in Ukraine. According to The Times, Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, was named on a secret, handwritten ledger showing $12.7 million earmarked for him.

Manafort had previously worked extensively in Ukraine, including for Rinat Akhmethov, a wealthy steel and iron ore businessman. Manafort’s ties to the Putin-aligned mogul recall the connections between Russian aluminum mogul Oleg Deripaska and John McCain’s 2008 campaign manager, Rick Davis.

More relevant to this alleged payout, however, are Manafort’s ties to Viktor Yanukovych, the former pro-Russian president of Ukraine. According to a Politifact story from a few months back, Akhmetov was a supporter of Yanukovych, and Manafort was first invited to consult on Yanukovych’s campaign in December of 2004.

Investigators told The Times that the money was part of an illegal system of payouts to multiple individuals, including elected officials, that was completely off-the-books. Prosecutors have also been looking into an $18 million deal done in part by Manafort to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership. Manafort worked with Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Russian President Vlladimir Putin, on that deal.

This is not the first time Trump or a member of his campaign has been publicly derided for ties to or comments about Russia. Trump has made positive statements about Putin in the past, and even went so far as to ask Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.

Officials say Manafort may not have received the cash, but it was marked for him specifically.

The Times notes that Manafort’s personal items and furniture were in the office he used when he worked for Yanukovych as early late May of this year.

Manafort refused to respond to interview requests or questions from The Times at the time of publication, but his lawyer, Richard A. Hibey disputed the claim that Manafort had received “any such cash payments.”

Monday morning, in a statement obtained by NBC News, however, Manafort slammed the claims against him:

Once again, the New York Times has chosen to purposefully ignore facts and professional journalism to fit their political agenda, choosing to attack my character and reputation rather than present an honest report.

The simplest answer is the truth: I am a campaign professional. It is well known that I do work in the United States and have done work on overseas campaigns as well. I have never received a single ‘off-the-books cash payment,’ as falsely ‘reported’ by The New York Times, nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia. Further, all of the political payments directed to me were for my entire political team: campaign staff (local and international), polling and research, election integrity and television advertising. The suggestion that I accepted cash payments is unfounded, silly and nonsensical.

Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager for Trump, made waves for tweeting the story Sunday evening.

Clinton’s campaign chair, Robby Mook, said in a statement:

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.

By Monday morning, the DNC had also put out its own official statement on the matter, through Press Secretary Mark Paustenbach:

The fact that Donald Trump’s top campaign aide, Paul Manafort, may have accepted millions in undisclosed cash payments from pro-Kremlin entities in Ukraine is especially troubling in light of the Russian government’s recently exposed cyber-attacks on the Democratic Party. Donald Trump must disclose any and all ties, financial or otherwise, that he or his campaign aides have to the Russian government. Our Democracy depends on free and fair elections, and the American people deserve to know if the Trump campaign is being influenced in any way by a foreign power.


Photo: Paul Manafort, senior advisor to Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, exits following a meeting of Donald Trump’s national finance team at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City, U.S., June 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Blake Neff

Twitter screenshot

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

On July 10, CNN's Oliver Darcy reported that Blake Neff, the top writer for Tucker Carlson's prime-time Fox News show, had been anonymously posting racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and other offensive content on an online forum for five years. Neff used racist and homophobic slurs, referred to women in a derogatory manner, and pushed white supremacist content while writing for Carlson's show. Neff resigned after CNN contacted him for comment.

As Darcy reported, in an interview with the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, Neff claimed anything Carlson read during his show was initially drafted by him. Darcy also found instances where there was "some overlap between the forum and the show," as sometimes the "material Neff encountered on the forum found its way on to Carlson's show."

During a 2018 appearance on Fox's The Five to promote his book Ship of Fools, Carlson mentioned Neff by name, calling him a "wonderful writer." Carlson also included Neff in the acknowledgments of the book.

Before joining Fox News, Neff worked at The Daily Caller, a conservative news outlet that Carlson co-founded. The outlet has published a number of white supremacists, anti-Semites, and bigots.

Carlson has a long history of promoting white supremacist content on his show. His show has featured many guests who have connections to white supremacy and far-right extremism. Carlson has regularly been praised by Neo-Nazis and various far-right extremist figures, and he's been a hero on many white supremacist podcasts. Users of the extremist online message boards 4chan and 8chan have repeatedly praised Carlson.

The manifesto released by the gunman who killed 20 people in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 was strewn with content that echoed talking points from Carlson's show. Days after the shooting, Carlson declared that calling white supremacy a serious issue is a "hoax" as it is "actually not a real problem in America."

Carlson has been hemorrhaging advertisers following his racist coverage of the Black Lives Matters movement and the recent protests against police brutality. Now that we know his top writer was using content from white supremacist online message boards for Carlson's show, it is more imperative than ever that advertisers distance their brands away from this toxicity.