Paul Manafort’s family expressed misgivings about the political consultant’s work for both Russia-aligned Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych and Donald Trump, according to text messages allegedly hacked from one of his daughters’ phones.
The texts, posted on a darknet website run by a hacktivist collective, appear to show Manafort’s family fretting about the ethics, safety and consequences of his work for Yanukovych. And they reveal that Manafort’s two daughters regarded their father’s emergence as a key player on Trump’s presidential campaign with a mixture of pride and embarrassment.
In one exchange, daughter Jessica Manafort writes “Im not a trump supporter but i am still proud of dad tho. He is the best at what he does.” Her sister Andrea Manafort responded by referring to their father’s relationship with Trump as “The most dangerous friendship in America,” while in another exchange she called them “a perfect pair” of “power-hungry egomaniacs,” and asserted “the only reason my dad is doing this campaign is for sport. He likes the challenge. It’s like an egomaniac’s chess game. There’s no money motivation.”
By contrast, the Manafort daughters and their mother seemed much more unsettled about Paul Manafort’s work as a political consultant for Yanukovych’s Russia-backed Party of Regions, which is a subject of renewed interest among investigators probing possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
In one March 2015 exchange that appears to be between the two sisters, Andrea Manafort seems to suggest that their father bore some responsibility for the deaths of protesters at the hands of police loyal to Yanukovych during a monthslong uprising that started in late 2013.
“Don’t fool yourself,” Andrea Manafort wrote. “That money we have is blood money.”
In another hacked exchange a few months later with someone else, Andrea Manafort wrote that her father’s “work and payment in Ukraine is legally questionable.”
Paul Manafort in an interview defended his work in Ukraine as “open, transparent and focused on doing all that I could to promote policies that were pro-Western” and focused on “moving Ukraine into the [European Union].”
Manafort acknowledged that his daughter Andrea had been hacked and corroborated the authenticity of at least some of the texts between him and her, but declined to comment on most of them.
The darknet website that posted the texts is associated with a hacktivist collective. The post accompanying the files was written early this month by an anonymous user who indicated that the motivation was payback for those who were “screwed” by Trump. The post also suggested that there was more information forthcoming on Manafort’s family.
The post included two sets of data files that appeared to have originated from the iPhone of Andrea Manafort — a series of screenshots and a database containing more than 280,000 text messages. The files appear to have been accessed through a backup of Andrea Manafort’s iPhone stored on a computer or iCloud account, through which hackers conceivably could have accessed all the contents of her phone.
The hacked texts cover about four years — from Oct. 9, 2012 through Sept. 7, 2016. The files end a little more than three weeks after Paul Manafort stepped down from Trump’s campaign amid questions about his work for — and associations with — Russia-linked figures in Ukraine. The dissemination of Andrea Manafort’s hacked texts comes as the FBI and congressional committees alike are looking into contacts between Trump’s associates — including Manafort — and Russian officials during the presidential campaign.
The inquiries are being fueled by lingering concerns over the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian intelligence engineered cyberattacks during the presidential campaign to try to undermine Hillary Clinton and boost Trump, whose stances on Russia were far friendlier than Clinton’s. The cyberattacks yielded thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, which were released by WikiLeaks, producing damaging headlines for Clinton’s team throughout the general election. Given that precedent, the Manafort hack evokes at least some feeling of turnabout.
Andrea Manafort, 31, and Jessica Manafort, 34, did not respond to requests for comment.
Included in the tranche of texts posted this month are messages suggesting that both Jessica Manafort and Paul Manafort also have been targeted by hackers.
In an exchange in late August 2016 — which appears to have been shortly before she was hacked — Andrea Manafort received a text from her father warning “Your sister has been … hacked. I just got an email from her saying ‘important document’ and sharing a Google spreadsheet … Needless to say, don’t open!”
The year before, Andrea Manafort indicated in a text to an associate that her father was reluctant to communicate sensitive information from his mobile devices because “Russians literally hack his phones.”
Asked if he was considering going to the authorities about the hacks, or about messages — one of which was revealed in the hack — that appeared to contain a blackmail threat, Paul Manafort, 67, said “I am preserving all my options on the hacks and blackmail and will be following my lawyer’s recommendations.”
It’s not clear who sent that message, which references Manafort’s work for the Party of Regions and his alleged role in setting up a purported 2012 meeting between Trump and a Yanukovych ally. (The White House has not responded to a question about whether the meeting took place, but a White House official pointed out that Trump had not worked with Manafort before the 2016 campaign).
The message, which was attached to a text from an icloud.com address with little discernible public record, asks Manafort to respond to a different email address on a mail.ru account that has been used by a Ukrainian parliamentarian named Serhiy Leshchenko. He has alleged that Manafort was paid millions of dollars illegally by the Party of Regions.
Andrea Manafort appears to have forwarded a screenshot of the message to her father on Sept. 6, 2016 — the second-to-last day for which there are hacked messages in the data dump — writing “I imagined this is spam but wanted to pass along.”
Ten minutes later, her father responded “It is. TY” — short for “thank you.”
But Paul Manafort told POLITICO he was merely trying to put his daughter’s mind at ease, and that, in fact, before his daughter received the message, he had received similar messages from the same icloud.com address sent to directly to his cellphone. He said he did not respond to the messages, instead forwarding them to his lawyer.
Separately, sources familiar with the situation say that word had circulated in Kiev over the summer that Manafort was receiving threatening messages related to his work in Ukraine, though the sources said it was not clear from whom the messages were sent.
But Leshchenko, a former investigative journalist who has built a reputation as an anti-corruption crusader, said he never communicated with Manafort or his daughter.
In a Sunday interview with POLITICO, he alleged that the purported blackmail message was an effort to frame him, and said he planned to flag the matter for the FBI.
He contended that the icloud.com email address from which the note was sent to Andrea Manafort was not his. And he added that he had stopped using the mail.ru email address to which the note asked Manafort to respond because it had been hacked multiple times, including by someone that he believes used it to set up an icloud.com address around the time of the Manafort hack.
Leshchenko suggested that the note might have been sent to Andrea Manafort by Russian-linked forces to divert attention away from the ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in the presidential election.
“They need to prove that not only Russia influenced the U.S. elections — that it was Ukraine as well,” he said. “It muddies the picture, makes it less sharp.”
He also suggested that the note might have been the work of people allied with the administration of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, whom Leshchenko has criticized for corruption. Poroshenko’s government has struggled to make inroads with Trump, amid allegations that Ukrainian officials tried to undermine Trump during the election, and Leshchenko speculated that if he were scapegoated, it might help Poroshenko on that front.
“I think that it could be Ukraine, for Poroshenko to establish contact with Trump and show that all this was the initiative of one crazy deputy,” Leshchenko said, referring to himself. (A Washington lobbyist representing a Poroshenko-linked group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
Leshchenko even floated the possibility that Manafort himself may have been behind the purported blackmail note to discredit documents he’s disputed that were released by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine that appeared to show $12.7 million in cash payments earmarked for Manafort from Yanukovych’s party.
On Monday, Manafort rejected that prospect.
“That makes no sense,” he said. “If I were trying to frame him, I would have released [the blackmail note] when I got it. Not six months later, after the ledgers had been discredited. It came out in a hack, not because I released it.”
The texts that were hacked from Andrea Manafort’s phone seem to reveal the personal costs — but also the financial benefits — of Manafort’s work for Russia-aligned interests in Ukraine, where he was widely credited as the key player behind Yanukovych’s political resurrection. After Yanukovych’s 2004 presidential election was nullified amid allegations of widespread fraud and voter intimidation, Manafort helped Yanukovych get elected prime minister in 2006 and president in 2010. Yet by late 2013, Yanukovych was facing widespread protests over government corruption.
When a friend expressed concern for Paul Manafort during those protests, Andrea Manafort responded, “My dad isn’t in Ukraine. My mom won’t allow it until it chills out.” But she added that “my dad said the media is over hyping it. Specifically stating Obama’s approval ratings are lower than yanukovch’s [sic] and you don’t see him being ousted.’ So yea. Just some wild protestors I guess.”
Kathleen Manafort, the Manafort daughters’ mother, declined to comment, referring questions to her husband, Paul Manafort.
On Feb. 20, 2014, with Kiev roiled by violent clashes between protesters and government security forces, a different friend texted Andrea Manafort asking if her father was “okay and in the us I hope!?!?”
Andrea Manafort responded that her father was “totally fine,” and that “the news is very over dramatic … Ukraine has been in ‘crisis’ for about year. Arguably longer. Hence my father’s employment.”
The very next day, Yanukovych fled the capital, leading the Ukrainian parliament to strip him of the presidency. Yanukovych ended up living in Russia under the protection of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Manafort continued working in Ukraine for a Russian-aligned party called Opposition Bloc that emerged from the ashes of Yanukovych’s presidency, helping Oppo Bloc, as it’s known in Ukraine, win some seats in the October 2014 parliamentary elections. While Manafort has said he stopped working in Ukraine after that, POLITICO last year revealed that he traveled to Kiev several times after that election, all the way through late 2015, and that he was working to recoup millions owed to him by Oppo Bloc.
In 2015, Andrea Manafort indicated in a text to a friend that “Ukraine is late in paying” Manafort, but she also refers repeatedly in the hacked texts to her father giving her $4 million.
When Paul Manafort signed on to work for Trump in 2016, Andrea Manafort told one friend “he isn’t being paid,” explaining to another “There’s no money motivation.”
In a text exchange in early April, Jessica Manafort tells her sister that her father, who maintained an apartment in Trump Tower, where the campaign is located, seemed to be thriving on the campaign.
“Dad and Trump are literally living in the same building and mom says they go up and down all day long hanging and plotting together,” Jessica Manafort wrote. “Gross,” Andrea Manafort responded, prompting Jessica Manafort to come to their father’s defense.
“Its really amazing opportunity at 67 years old. And he is basically running the campaign now He is so happy,” Jessica Manafort wrote.
When WikiLeaks released a massive tranche of hacked emails from the DNC ahead of Clinton’s nominating convention in late July, Jessica Manafort seemed to assume that it was her father’s doing, texting her sister “Dad is brilliant.” Andrea Manafort responded “Well it wasn’t dads doing. It was hackers,” adding “But dad has to be thrilled about this. It’s overshadowing the whole convention.”
But Paul Manafort’s work started causing problems for Andrea Manafort when The New York Times published an August 2016 exposé revealing that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine had obtained the documents showing $12.7 million in cash earmarked for Manafort.
The Ukrainian parliamentarian Leshchenko, who had played a role in exposing the documents, seized on the documents to pressure Ukrainian and American law enforcement to aggressively investigate Manafort.
Andrea Manafort brushed off the controversy in a text to one friend, explaining “He would never have accepted cash. He wouldn’t need to.” Defending her father, she wrote “My dad has answers to all the allegations. And there is no fed investigation.”
But, at the time, she was interviewing for a job with a hedge fund, and she texted a friend saying the executives “were concerned” about whether she “ever worked for him or own property w him, which I haven’t and don’t.”
She texted another friend that someone from the firm called and “had to ask if I have any connection to my dad on paper. Like if I have worked for him or if I could be tied to this Ukraine stuff in any way. Like the money trail.” She continued “there’s no connection. But like, obviously the article is making them nervous about me.”
She added “I hate my name. This is so unfair. And I HATE Hillary. She hired someone to do this to my family. I’m so upset. All this fucking press. It’s so unfair.”
Clinton campaign officials have denied playing a role in the story.
Officials from the hedge fund did not respond to requests for comment, but Andrea Manafort did end up getting the job there.
While Paul Manafort disputed the authenticity of the documents and denied receiving any off-books cash from Yanukovych’s party, the controversy forced him to step down from Trump’s campaign only days after the Times story.
Hours after the resignation was announced, Andrea Manafort texted a friend that her father “felt he was becoming a distraction and that would ultimately take a toll on the campaign.”
By: Kenneth P. Vogel, David Stern and Josh Meyer