Mysterious Payment To Paul Manafort Lawyer Reveals Trump 2016 Campaign’s Hidden Operation
A mysterious payment of $125,000 in June 2017 to Paul Manafort’s lawyers popped up in a recent court filing that is now raising more questions about President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. The cash went from a pro-Trump political group to the bank account of Manafort’s attorney.
An extensive CNBC exposé found that a firm called Multi Media Services Corporation, led by longtime Manafort associate Tony Fabrizio, who also served as the chief pollster on the campaign.
Special counsel Robert Mueller showed that the strange payment wasn’t disclosed until over one year after it was issued, around the time Manafort was accused of reportedly lying to investigators about where the money came from.
“The path taken by this $125,000 also highlights the ways that Manafort took advantage of the Trump campaign’s underdeveloped leadership structure to install his allies in top positions across the Trump political landscape,” CNBC wrote Sunday.
Super PACs are allowed to raise and spend millions of nearly unregulated cash with little disclosure on where it came from. While these so-called “dark money” groups aren’t allowed to coordinate with campaigns, there are few details on what exactly “coordination” means.
“In this world, Manafort’s longtime associates could hold key positions, and oversee the raising and spending of huge sums of money, often with little to no direct oversight,” CNBC explained.
One of these positions was leading a pro-Trump super PAC that Manafort helped to establish in June 2016 called Rebuilding America Now.
Manafort hired Connecticut-based lobbyist Laurance “Laury” Gay to run his pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America Now. In the final six months, the PAC raised $24 million. Once Manafort fell under investigations in the summer of 2017, Manafort began to arrange the $125,000 check be sent to his attorneys. Gay didn’t give the money from the PAC, however. He asked a donor to write the check directly to Manafort’s lawyers.
“At the request of Paul Manafort, Laury [Gay] asked that funds be forwarded to an entity designated by Mr. Manafort to assist with his legal expenses,” CNBC quoted criminal defense attorney Anthony J. Iacullo, who represents Gay.
It’s clear Mueller has followed this money since last year, but the House Judiciary Committee only recently called Fabrizio to testify.
Court filings have the donor included, but it has been redacted. It was a person with “a long relationship” with Manafort, however. The person ran a firm that was paid “approximately $19 million” by Gay’s super PAC.
“There is only one firm that received anything near $19 million from Rebuilding America Now,” CNBC reported. “And reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show that this firm received almost exactly $19 million, leaving little doubt about which firm it was that prosecutors were referring to. It is a political ad-buying firm called Multi Media Services Corporation, or MMSC, based in Alexandria, Virginia.”
It’s a small two-person operation working as a vendor on campaigns Manafort is associated with, his lawyers explained. Court documents list the cash as a transfer with the headling “Debit Information,” and the account “MMSC SECONDARY – *7107* – Checking – $132,087.56,” for the Multi Media Services Corporation.
The company agreed to a deal with the Manafort super PAC where they’d score an unusually large commission of six percent on their ad buys during the 2016 campaign. They said half of the commission was given to the head of Rebuilding America Now.
Previous questions of the high commission came up during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Ohio.
“The main question is where the money is going,” asked an attendee at a Rebuilding America Now fundraiser. During the event, attendees also had questions “about the super PAC’s commission rates.”
While the high fee might be questionable, it isn’t illegal. The Federal Elections Commission doesn’t demand ad buying fees be reported separately from the buy itself. So, all the public would see is $10 million to an ad firm. Half of that commission being rerouted back to Rebuilding America Now, however, should have been reported.
“If a payment is made to one vendor with the intention that it be directed to another person or subvendor, and that recipient isn’t disclosed, then the committee has violated the law” by failing to disclose their expenditures accurately, said Brendan Fischer, director of the federal reform program at The Campaign Legal Center
It raises a further question about where money was coming from and where it managed to end up. Trump bragged about his lack of fundraising, saying he could pay for his campaign. When it came time for the general election, Trump had to start raising money. It was then that super PACs also started popping up with millions funneling through various political groups and the National Rifle Association.
Then there’s the issue of unusual reimbursements. In May 2017, Rebuilding America Now stopped buying ads on television, but there were three large cash transfers $800,000 from Fabrizio’s MMSC to Rebuilding America Now. It isn’t unusual for ad-buy firms to reimburse groups with whatever money isn’t spent, however, they’re typically down to the dollar amount and not in multiple payments so long after the election.
You can read the entire report on CNBC.