Longtime Trump ally: ‘Heresy’ to accuse Manafort of colluding with Russians

(CNN)A longtime friend of President Donald Trump is defending former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in the wake of a report that his consulting firm received at least $1.2 million in payments from a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

According to the Associated Press, financial records prove the payments, which were listed in a handwritten ledger, were made in 2007 and 2009 — years before Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. Ukrainian investigators claimed the ledger proved the payments were made secretly. Manafort’s spokesman Jason Maloni, however, called any allegation of improper secret payments “totally misleading and incorrect.”
Manafort’s lawyers have also been in discussions with the Justice Department for Manafort to register as a foreign agent in a bid to resolve questions about his past work for Ukraine, according to CNN sources briefed on the talks.
    On CNN’s “Outfront” on Wednesday, Erin Burnett asked Tom Barrack, who chaired Trump’s inaugural committee, if there was any chance Manafort was compromised or colluded with Russians in an attempt to rig the election for Trump. Barrack, who has known Manafort for more than 30 years, said “it’s heresy, it’s impossible.”
    “Number one,” he said, “the President-elect had no inclination of Russia, it wasn’t on his radar, it had no purpose in domestic policy.”
    Barrack then went on to praise Manafort, who he said did “an A+ job” for the campaign.
    He said Manafort is “credible, he’s reliable, he’s an unbelievable pro, I found his character be bulletproof.”
    “I know the man,” Barrack added. “I know the character of the man, I know what happened during that election, I know what happened during the convention, and I would have a hard time believing it, although I don’t have any access to the facts.”
    He also downplayed any suggestion of turmoil within the Trump administration despite the fact that Trump has distanced himself from Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, predicting that Bannon is not going anywhere.
    Barrack said Bannon is one of the “really bright people” Trump has surrounded himself with, and that Trump “curates different points of view and he encourages confusion amongst them.”
    “What happens is a misunderstanding sometimes on the outside, that of course you’re going to have fights inside of a sandbox that are on purpose, and the President then curates a point of view to determine what he wants to do and he adapts,” he said.
    Barrack also praised the Trump administration, saying “there is more harmony, they’re better organized,” and that “in my opinion, it’s running better today than it’s ever run.”
    The comments came just hours after Barrack met with Trump at the White House. Asked about the meeting, Barrack said “what he said was actually less important than how he looked and how he felt.”
    “He was the most sanguine, the most confident, the most energized, looked the best, the youngest, the least frustrated that I have ever seen him,” he said.

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