Big story breaking tonight: Robert Mueller’s plea agreement reveals a complex, sordid tale of dirty-ops conducted by Paul Manafort in support of the Ukrainian president and Russian darling, Victor Yanukovich. If you read this Guardian report published last April closely, you will find that Manafort used many of the same sordid techniques later adopted by the Trump presidential campaign. Among them: he hired “journalists” to create fraudulent media platforms and social media accounts which promoted false, defamatory stories about Yanukovich’s chief rival, Yulia Tymoshenko. His underlings also created fake websites to smear her and an astroturf “think-tank” to promote “research” which offered an academic veneer to these efforts.
Though Manafort’s ultimate client was Yanukovich, he maintained close contact with Russian intelligence via his Kiev chief of staff, who was a GRU agent. So far, the Mueller filing does not offer explicit connections between Manafort and Putin, but that wouldn’t be how the Russian works, anyway. Putin would certainly delegate to subordinates and cut-out figures who would be under his influence, but not traced back to him directly. The obvious reason why it’s important eventually to lay out a map of Russian influence in Manafort’s Ukraine efforts is to argue that Russia was essentially replicating this strategy in getting Trump elected.
Of special interest to me is the role played by Israel’s leadership in Manafort’s efforts. The latter wrote a memo declaring that he would enlist “Obama Jews” to complain to the then-president that his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was supporting anti-Semitism in Ukraine. In effect, what he did was use a journalist working for him to invent a quote by a so-called “Jewish leader” accusing Tymoshenko of allying herself with an anti-Semitic party.
Spencer Ackerman writes:
Publicly, Manafort’s message was that “the Jewish community will take this out on Obama on election day if he does nothing.” But privately, through a lobbyist envoy to the Obama administration, he conveyed that Ukraine had “worked to prevent the Administration’s presidential opponent from including damaging language in the Israeli statement, so as not to harm the Administration.” Message: You and all your Jews can trust the valiant Viktor Yanukovich.
The former Trump campaign chair also enlisted Avigdor Lieberman, then foreign minister, to release a statement reinforcing the charges of Tymoshenko collusion with Ukrainian anti-Semitism. This lent the charge an air of gravitas it would ordinarily lack. It would also lend credence to the charges among the “Obama Jews” Manafort was attempting to persuade to lobby the president against Tymoshenko. Lieberman’s official statement was fed by Manafort’s cronies to Breitbart’s Ben Shapiro, who regurgitated it there, invented quote and all.
Lieberman has denied any involvement in the scheme:
Lieberman, who is currently defense minister, denied on Friday that he had ever met with, spoken to or worked with Manafort.
Of course, Manafort would not have approached Lieberman directly. He would have permitted his Russian co-conspirators to do that for him. And Lieberman is smart enough to ensure there would be no fingerprints on the statement that linked its publication to outside influence. Thus, Lieberman’s ‘denial’ is nothing of the sort.
Mueller also contradicts Lieberman:
Manafort “coordinated privately with a senior Israeli government official to issue a written statement publicizing this story” and “then, with secret advance knowledge of that Israeli statement, worked to disseminate this story in the United States,” prosecutors claim.
Lieberman’s role is especially interesting since Israeli intelligence officials have, in the past, refused to brief him on sensitive matters, fearing he might compromise them. Lieberman is known to have an especially close relationship with the Kremlin, including Putin himself. Even after Netanyahu began his own intensive shuttle diplomacy with Russia to coördinate Israel’s approach to Syria, Lieberman continued his own high level meetings there at least once a year or more.
Once a mysterious flyer was posted on the streets of Jerusalem explicitly accusing Lieberman of being a Russian intelligence asset. Ronen Bergman and others have documented the penetration of the Israeli military, political echelon, and intelligence services by Russian intelligence. If any of this is true, it would make perfect sense for the Kremlin to enlist the former Moldovan to smear Tymoshenko. No doubt, Lieberman would owe them a favor and be happy to repay it with such a bogus claim smearing the Ukrainian opposition leader.
Manafort paid nearly $3-million to senior European leaders to get them to promote Yanukovich in Europe. Given how much money he was spreading around, it’s worth asking how much Lieberman might have been paid, if not directly by Manafort, then by his Russian “friends.” The man’s avarice is well-known and he’s been he subject of several corruption investigations which ultimately, an obeisant prosecution decided not to pursue via formal criminal charges.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.