Paul Manafort targeted for blackmail shortly before Ukraine ties forced him out of Trump campaign
Paul Manafort was apparently the target of a possible Russian blackmail attempt when he served as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman.
The undated messages — which have been hacked and then recently circulated by a hacktivist collective — were sent to an iPhone belonging to Manafort’s daughter in an attempt to reach her father, reported Politico.
One text message appears to have come from a Ukrainian parliamentarian named Serhiy Leshchenko, who claimed to have “bulletproof” evidence of a financial arrangement between Manafort and Ukraine’s former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych.
Leschenko is a former investigative journalist who is known as an anti-corruption crusader.
The message also claimed to have strong evidence that Trump met in 2012 with Serhiy Tulub, a close associate of the Ukrainian strongman Yanukovych.
“Considering all the facts and evidence that are in my possession, and before possible decision whether to pass this to [the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine] or FBI I would like to get your opinion on this and maybe your way to work things out that will persuade me to do otherwise,” the message reads.
The message urges Manafort to reply using an email address that reporters have used to communicate with Leschenko, according to Politico.
Manafort, who joined the Trump campaign in March and left in August due to his ties to Yanukovych, confirmed the authenticity of the texts that had been hacked from his daughter’s phone.
He told Politico that he had received similar texts to his own phone, from the same address, before his daughter had gotten any.
Manafort said the messages began arriving shortly before the New York Times reported that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine had obtained documents allegedly showing $12.7 million in cash payments intended for Trump’s then-campaign chairman.
He resigned two days later from the Trump campaign, although he denies receiving off-the-books payment from Yanukovych’s party and claims he was never contacted by Ukrainian or American authorities about the documents.
The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies are investigating possible links between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
Manafort, along with Trump campaign advisors Carter Page and Roger Stone, has been identified by the New York Times as the subject of the multiagency investigation.
He has also been identified as one of the participants in a back-channel effort by Trump administration officials and the president’s business associates to resolve the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Manafort told the website he hadn’t responded directly to any of the texts and instead passed them along to his lawyer.
The messages hacked from his daughter’s phone first surfaced a couple of weeks ago on the so-called dark web, according to Politico.
Cybersecurity experts are relatively unfamiliar with the hacktivist group that revealed the texts sent to Manafort’s daughter, and the hack appears to be intended as retribution against Trump’s policies.
A former U.S. military intelligence cybersecurity analyst told Politico the group “seems like randos,” rather than associated with any nation-state.