Paul Manafort’s guilty plea Friday came with new evidence of a dirty-tricks campaign involving a jailed Ukrainian opposition politician, the Israeli government, a U.S. official who appears to be then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and what Manafort allegedly called “[O]bama jews.”
The complicated 2012 scheme amounted to an effort to smear the Ukrainian politician, Yulia Tymoshenko, as an anti-Semite, according to court documents filed Friday in the Manafort case. Tymoshenko was then in jail, and Clinton was among the international critics who suggested that Manafort’s pro-Russian client, then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, had put her there.
Tymoshenko’s political party was standing in parliamentary elections in October 2012, and Manafort bragged in documents cited by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III that he could “plant some stink” on her.
Manafort pleaded guilty to two criminal charges and has pledged to cooperate with Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and whether any Trump associates may have conspired with Moscow.
His 2012 plan was an effort to “tarnish Tymoshenko in the United States” and pressure the Obama administration to distance itself from her, according to an outline released by prosecutors Friday.
The plan does not appear to have worked. Tymoshenko’s party did well in the 2012 elections, and she is planning a presidential run next year. In addition, the Obama administration continued to criticize Yanukovych and to call Tymoshenko’s prosecution unfair.
Manafort “orchestrated a scheme to have, as he wrote in a contemporaneous communication, ‘[O]bama jews’ put pressure on the Administration to disavow Tymoshenko and support Yanukovych,” prosecutors wrote.
Manafort “sought to undermine United States support for Tymoshenko by spreading stories in the United States that a senior Cabinet official (who had been a prominent critic of Yanukovych’s treatment of Tymoshenko) was supporting anti-Semitism because the official supported Tymoshenko, who in turn had formed a political alliance with a Ukraine party that espoused anti-Semitic views,” the charging document said.
That official seems likely to have been Clinton, who was then finishing her four-year term as secretary of state and had become a vocal critic of what she called anti-democratic currents in Ukraine. The arguments pushed by Manafort match those in an article published on the Breitbart News right-wing website attacking Clinton.
A spokesman for Clinton did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
The smear-by-association was based on a political alliance that Tymoshenko’s party had formed with a movement known as Svoboda, or Freedom, which had been associated with anti-Semitic views.
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.
Manafort wrote at the time that “I have someone pushing it on the NY Post. Bada bing bada boom,” the document says.
Manafort’s goal was “to have the Administration understand that ‘the Jewish community will take this out on Obama on election day if he does nothing,’ ” prosecutors wrote, quoting contemporaneous writings.
The New York Post apparently did not bite, but an article did appear on Breitbart outlining the ties between Tymoshenko’s party and Svoboda, and quoting a statement from Israel’s top diplomat at the time, Avigdor Liberman.
“One prominent Jewish leader, who asked to remain unnamed, says that Clinton’s New York Times op-ed ripping the current Ukrainian administration has ‘created a neo-Nazi Frankenstein by issuing a de facto endorsement of Mrs. Tymoshenko and her choices,’ ” the Breitbart article said.
The Oct. 27, 2012, statement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the country was “concerned about the growing extremist anti-Semitic forces in Ukraine” and cited the partnership agreement.
“Israel is concerned about the recently signed agreement between the Batkivshchyna Party and the extremist Freedom Party, whose anti-Semitic attacks repeatedly aroused resentment both in Ukraine and in Israel,” the statement from Liberman’s office read.
The Svoboda political movement “glorified” what it called “the struggle against the Muscovites and Jews,” the statement said.
“The expression of such views resembles the dark pages of the history of the last century, which led humanity to the tragedy of the Second World War. Israel condemns anti-Semitic manifestations of any kind and expresses the hope that common sense prevails.”
The Israeli statement came three days after Clinton and the European Union foreign affairs minister published an op-ed in the New York Times that mentioned Tymoshenko by name.
“We regret that the convictions of opposition leaders during trials that did not meet international standards are preventing them from standing in parliamentary elections,” Clinton and the European Union’s Catherine Ashton wrote. “The Ukrainian government needs to address these selective prosecutions, including the case of former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko and other former senior officials.”
Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.