Former clients of Paul Manafort, seen here on June 15 arriving for a court hearing, met with a U.S. politician during a trip sponsored by the Christian group allegedly targeted by a Russian spy to help establish “back-channel” communications.

 

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

TYT Investigates

Group in Russia Probe Sponsored Travel for Ukraine Meetings with Manafort Clients

The secretive Christian group referred to in the FBI's affidavit about alleged spy Maria Butina also helped facilitate meetings between a member of Congress and Ukrainian clients of Paul Manafort, federal documents show.

Manafort, President Trump's former campaign manager, is awaiting a verdict in the first of two trials related to allegations that he made millions of dollars secretly lobbying for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his political allies.

The FBI's investigation led to the revelation in February that Rep. Bob Aderholt (R-Ala.) met in June 2013 with a lobbyist and an Austrian politician, both allegedly receiving money funneled from Yanukovych. The lobbying was allegedly part of a scheme with Manafort to shift U.S. public opinion and policy on Ukraine toward Yanukovych, whose party was seen as a Russian ally.

Aderholt is the leading political emissary overseas for the Fellowship Foundation, best known for sponsoring the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual, bipartisan, Washington ritual. The FBI claims that Butina engaged with sponsors of the breakfast to make back-channel connections with Washington's powerful elites.

TYT previously reported that the Fellowship Foundation paid for trips by Aderholt and other Republicans that involved meetings with controversial European politicians. One politician had been prominently criticized for anti-Semitic statements, while others fit a pattern of bolstering anti-gay policies that could complicate membership in the European Union, which requires liberal LGBTQ policies. The FBI has claimed that Russia "seeks to create wedges that . . . counter efforts to bring Ukraine and other former Soviet states into European institutions."

Federal documents show that Aderholt's 2013 meeting wasn't his last with figures in the Manafort case. In fact, the records show that Aderholt met overseas with the man who allegedly bankrolled Yanukovych's plan.

Rinat Akhmetov, reportedly Ukraine's richest man, put millions of dollars in Manafort's pockets. Akhmetov was also the patron of Yanukovych's political efforts, which included hiring Manafort.

An early, "tentative" itinerary for Aderholt's trip to attend the 2016 Southeast European Gathering—a version of the National Prayer Breakfast—has him departing from Croatia to return home on June 1. The final version, included in the same filing, has an added stop: Ukraine.

The change allowed Aderholt to attend the Ukraine Prayer Breakfast, a collaboration with the Fellowship Foundation. But the itinerary change also added just two one-on-one meetings for Aderholt while he was in Ukraine. The first, a half-hour long, was "with Rinet [sic] Akhmetov at his office in Kiev," the new itinerary says.

Excerpt from Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) 2016 travel filing, showing his two private meetings in Ukraine.

The next meeting was to last an hour. This meeting was with Borys Kolesnikov, a former top deputy to Yanukovych. The itinerary offers more detail about Aderholt's meeting with Kolesnikov, saying that the meeting will include "Discussion—The current concerns and issues in the country and region."

During Manafort's trial, former business partner Rick Gates reportedly testified that both Akhmetov and Kolesnikov wired money to Manafort's offshore account.

The itinerary also says that a third man would attend the Kolesnikov meeting: Former Rep. Bob McEwen (R-Ohio). McEwen has spent years as a lobbyist, including work as a registered foreign agent. Like Aderholt, McEwen has ties to the Fellowship Foundation. The group's archives cite McEwen's involvement with the National Prayer Breakfast as early as 1983. In an interview posted on YouTube in September 2016, McEwen appears alongside Doug Coe, a leader of the Fellowship Foundation from its founding until his death in February 2017.

The sponsor disclosure form for Aderholt's 2016 trip was filed by the Fellowship Foundation and indicates that the group paid for the trip. The reason for sending Aderholt, according to the organization, was that Aderholt "is an experienced and active supporter of reforms in Ukraine."

More recently, a vocal critic of the Russia probe that revealed Manafort's Ukraine dealings also traveled to Ukraine. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) was there in June of this year, according to a disclosure filing. The form does not name anyone attending meetings with Gohmert, except Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko.

Last year, a member of Ukraine's parliament reported an apparent détente between Poroshenko and Akhmetov. In May of this year, it was reported that Poroshenko's government had ceased cooperating with the Mueller investigation and suspended its own inquiry into Manafort's activities.

Poroshenko has denied any ties to Manafort. Gates testified during the trial that Poroshenko, too, had been a client. On August 8, a spokesperson for Poroshenko reportedly denied there had been any deal with Manafort but confirmed that members of Poroshenko's team met with Manafort.

Gohmert's trip was sponsored by the Ukrainian Prayer Breakfast Organizing Committee, the Ukrainian group affiliated with the Fellowship Foundation.

You can reach Managing Editor Jonathan Larsen on Twitter here.

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