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Trump Campaign Chair Dismisses Report Of Ukraine Payments As 'Silly'

Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, shown here on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last month, has done consulting work in Ukraine.
Carolyn Kaster
Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, shown here on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last month, has done consulting work in Ukraine.

The chairman of Donald Trump's presidential campaign says he never received a single off-the-books cash payment for political work in Ukraine.

The statement from campaign chairman Paul Manafort comes after The New York Times reported that his name appears in a so-called "black ledger" recording under-the-table payments made by the political party of Ukraine's former pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych.

The newspaper says the ledger lists $12.7 million in payments to Manafort between 2007 and 2012. The ledger is being scrutinized by Ukraine's new anti-corruption bureau, although officials there tell the Times it's not clear whether the payments were actually made.

"The suggestion that I accepted cash payments is unfounded, silly, and nonsensical," Manafort said in a statement to NBC News, adding that any political payments directed to him "were for my entire political team: campaign staff (local and international), polling and research, election integrity and television advertising."

Manafort's consulting work in Ukraine was already under a microscope, given Trump's favorable comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin, an ally of Yanukovych. Trump raised eyebrows last month when he said he would consider recognizing Russia's annexation of Crimea. Russia invaded the Ukrainian territory in 2014 after Yanukovych was ousted in a pro-Western revolt.

The Trump campaign also worked to weaken language in the GOP platform on aid to Ukraine's post-Yanukovych government. At the campaign's urging, platform language calling for the U.S. to provide "lethal defensive weapons" to Ukraine was watered down to "appropriate assistance."

Hillary Clinton's campaign seized on the Times story to demand more information about Trump's staff.

"Donald Trump has a responsibility to disclose campaign chair Paul Manafort's and all other campaign employees' and advisers' ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump's employees or advisers are currently representing or being paid by them," said Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook in a statement.

Manafort has a long history of working with unsavory overseas governments, including former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Manafort's former lobbying firm — Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly — was cited in a 1992 report titled "The Torturers' Lobby" by the Center for Public Integrity.

Manafort also has a decades-long relationship with Trump, having lobbied for the GOP nominee on gambling and real estate issues.

In his statement to NBC, Manafort insists he has not done any work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia, without detailing his work on behalf of Yanukovych's political party.

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Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.