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Trump's campaign chairman fights back against report detailing pro-Russian payment ledgers

 (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Donald Trump's campaign is fighting back against a New York Times story published Sunday night that told of handwritten ledgers indicating that Trump's campaign chairman received $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments from a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

The report -- showing even closer ties between Trump's inner circle and Russia than were previously known -- threatens to further damage Trump's campaign on the same day the candidate is scheduled to deliver a major speech on national security.

Campaign chairman Paul Manafort's consulting work for former Ukraine President Viktor F. Yanukovych was already public. But the Times reported records of cash payments between 2007 to 2012 that were not previously disclosed. It said the ledgers were discovered by an anticorruption bureau as "part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials."

The Times report said criminal investigators are separately looking into a network of "offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles." One such transaction, the Times reported, involved an $18-million cable television deal put together by Manafort. The newspaper reported that Manafort is not the target of the probe.

Trump's supportive comments of Russian President Vladimir Putin had already drawn scrutiny.

Manafort drew particular scrutiny after the GOP platform, approved last month, eliminated a call to arm Ukraine in its fight with Russia, which seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and has supported separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The Trump campaign, which was already at war with the New York Times, released a statement Monday under Manafort's name, leaving some distance between the nominee and the campaign chairman.

"The suggestion that I accepted cash payments is unfounded, silly and nonsensical," Manafort said, claiming that "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."

Manafort conceded in the statement that he has done campaign work for overseas clients, while denying his payments were "off-the-books cash" or for the governments of Ukraine and Russia. He did not specifically deny the size of his payments and went on to say that any money he received was "for my entire political team: campaign staff (local and international), polling and research, election integrity and television advertising."  

"My work in Ukraine ceased following the country’s parliamentary elections in October 2014," he said. "In addition, as the article points out hesitantly, every government official interviewed states I have done nothing wrong, and there is no evidence of 'cash payments' made to me by any official in Ukraine."

Hillary Clinton's campaign, meanwhile, has called the report "troubling." 

"Given the pro-Putin policy stances adopted by Donald Trump and the recent Russian government hacking and disclosure of Democratic Party records, Donald Trump has a responsibility to disclose campaign chair Paul Manafort's and all other campaign employees' and advisors' ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump's employees or advisors are currently representing and or being paid by them," campaign manager Robby Mook said in a statement.

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