Manafort's Name Surfaces During Russian Investigation Hearing

The role veteran political operative and Connecticut native Paul Manafort played during Donald Trump's campaign jumped to front and center Monday when the House Intelligence Committee opened a public inquiry into Russian interference in the presidential election.

Manafort's name came up several times during the committee hearing, where FBI Director James Comey revealed publicly for the first time that the agency was investigating Russian meddling in the election, including if people working for Trump colluded with Russian agents that hacked the Democratic National Committee.

"We all campaign, I don't think any of our campaign people have connections with a foreign power, much less one that is an adversary of the United States," said Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, the No. 2 Democrat on the committee.

Himes said Manafort — who worked for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine — was one of several people in Trump's orbit who had an "odd connection" to Russia.

Democrats keyed in on changes to the Republican Party platform that were made ahead of the Republican National Convention — when Manafort was in a key Trump campaign position — that favored Russia in its conflict with Ukraine.

On Monday, the White House sought to downplay the role Manafort played in the campaign. Manafort, of New Britain, who was Trump's former campaign chairman and helped wrangle delegates before the Republican National Convention, "played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time," said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

In a statement to CNN Monday night, Manafort denied allegations that he did anything illegal or inappropriate during the campaign.

Spicer's characterization of Manafort is in conflict with his actions in the months leading up to and following the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Afer Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was dismissed in June, he said Manafort, who was hired in March, had "been in operational control of the campaign" since early April. Manafort frequently appeared on television news programs as a Trump surrogate.

Trump has denied there was any collusion between his advisers and Russian agents during the campaign.

Manafort, who grew up in New Britain and has spent 40 years as a top Republican operative, once worked for Ukrainian prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, who has had close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He resigned from the Trump campaign in August, after a New York Times investigation uncovered handwritten ledgers showing $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments for Manafort from Yanukovych's party. Manafort denied he'd received any illegal payments. CNN reported over the weekend that Ukranian prosecutors wanted to question Manafort in connection with a corruption investigation.

Last month, Manafort, denied he had any contact with Russian intelligence officials while he was campaign chairman, responding to a New York Times report that law enforcement agencies had intercepted calls between him and Russian officials. The news about Manafort came a day after Michael Flynn, Trump's national security adviser, resigned following reports he misled senior White House officials about his conversations with Russia before Trump was inaugurated.

By insinuating that members of Trump's campaign team may have been in contact with Russia regarding the DNC hack, some Democrats have pointed out his seemingly cozy relationship with Putin.

"There is intense public interest in the fact that our new president will attack anyone and everyone. He will attack the cast of 'Hamilton.' He will attack [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer. He will attack our allies," but he will not attack Putin, said Himes.

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