Exclusive: Paul Manafort authorised secret media operation that sought to discredit key opponent of then Ukrainian president

Donald Trump's former campaign administrator Paul Manafort authorised a secret media operation on behalf of Ukraine's former chairperson featuring” black ops”, “placed” articles in the Wall Street Journal and US websites and anonymous briefings against Hillary Clinton.

The project was designed to boost the reputation of Ukraine's then leader, Viktor Yanukovych. It was part of a multimillion-dollar lobbying attempt carried out by Manafort on behalf of Yanukovych's embattled government, emails and documents expose.

The strategies included:

* Proposing to rewrite Wikipedia entries to smear a key foe of the then Ukrainian president.

* Setting up a fake thinktank in Vienna to disseminate standpoints supporting Yanukovych.

* A social media blitz” is targeted at targeted audiences in Europe and the US “.

* Briefing journalists from the rightwing website Breitbart to attack Clinton when she was US secretary of state.

Manafort's Ukraine strategy foresaw later attempts by the Kremlin and its troll factory to employ Twitter and Facebook to discredit Clinton and to help Trump win the 2016 US election. The material ensure by the Guardian dates from 2011 to 2013.

Robert Mueller, the special attorney analyse claims of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, has indicted Manafort on multiple counts. Manafort is accused of ” laundering gains “ from his lobbying work in Ukraine, carried out over a period of a decade for Yanukovych and his political party.

Viktor Yanukovych greets advocates during a campaign rally in Kiev in 2010. Photograph: Efrem Lukatsky/ AP

Mueller also accuses Manafort of hiring retired European politicians to lobby on behalf of the members of Yanukovych, and paying them more than EUR2m( PS1. 74 m, $2.45 m) via offshore accounts.

The documents reveal another surreptitious operation to influence international opinion. In 2010 Yanukovych defeated his rival Yulia Tymoshenko in presidential elections. The following summertime Ukrainian attorneys apprehended Tymoshenko and put her on trial. This elicited severe criticism from the Obama administration and the EU, which accused Yanukovych of locking up Tymoshenko for political reasons.

In 2011 Manafort approved a clandestine strategy to discredit Tymoshenko abroad. Alan Friedman, a former Wall Street Journal and Financial Times reporter, are stationed in Italy, masterminded this project. Friedman has previously been accused of concealing his work as a paying lobbyist.

Also involved were Rick Gates, Manafort's then deputy, and Konstantin Kilimnik, another senior Manafort associate who the FBI believes has links to Russian military intelligence.

In July 2011 Friedman sent Manafort a confidential six-page document titled Ukraine – A Digital Roadmap. It laid out a plan to “deconstruct” Tymoshenko via videos, articles and social media. Yanukovych deferred to Manafort, who devoted the project the go-ahead, sources in Ukraine's former government say.

Friedman's proposed operation was ambitious. It included producing anonymous videos attacking Tymoshenko and comparing the opposition leader to a drunk Boris Yeltsin.” The social media space offers great opportunities for guilt by association ,” Friedman wrote in the document.

He continued:” We know that video exists of Tymoshenko uttering some of her outrageous claims in tribunal … The video can be floated into the social space to reinforce the impression that she is at best reckless and unstatesmanlike and at the worst malicious, libelous and antisemitic .”

An anonymous video attacking Yulia Tymoshenko, produced by FBC Media. Photo: Youtube

Twitters users, including” those' known' to us”, could retweet hostile content. The “roadmap” included a website, blogposts and” explosion emails”, sent out to a” targeted audience in Europe and the US “. One segment was called ” Black Ops “. It said:” This could include Wikipedia page modification to highlight[ Tymoshenko] corruption and trial and modify the tone of the language being used .”

Friedman worked with Eckart Sager, a one-time CNN producer. Emails present they liaised closely with “Paul”, who in turn briefed Yanukovych's chief of staff, Serhiy Lyovochkin. Lyovochkin declined to comment. He appears in correspondence as “SL”.

” He was under the radar ,” one source said of Friedman.” Alan kept a low profile. Without Paul's authorisation Alan would never have got a contract with the[ Yanukovych] government .”

Friedman's company FBC Media was retained on a” rolling contract “. It was paid around EUR1 50,000 every three months, sources in Kiev indicate. The money was deposited in an offshore account in Seychelles, they allege. Often the payments were late, prompting Friedman to complain, they add.

Quick guide

Paul Manafort Ukraine connections: who's who?

Paul Manafort

Lobbyist and Trump campaign administrator. Manafort began work in 2005 for Ukraine's Party of Regions, led by Viktor Yanukovych. He helped Yanukovych win the country's 2010 presidential vote and approved a secret media operation to discredit Yanukovych's challenger Yulia Tymoshenko. Robert Mueller, the special counseling analyse alleged Trump-Russia collusion, has indicted Manafort on multiple counts. He denies wrongdoing.

Rick Gates

Manafort's righthand man. Gates worked for Yanukovych, and has participated in 2016 as Trump's deputy campaign manager and deputy chair of Trump's inaugural committee. Gates took part in the anti-Tymoshenko operating and boasted of success in the US media. In February he admitted lying to the FBI and agreed to cooperate with Mueller. He and Manafort are accused of laundering money from their Ukraine activities, and concealing it in offshore accounts.

Alan Friedman

Journalist, novelist and Italy-based lobbyist. Friedman masterminded a social media-led project designed to undermine Tymoshenko in key western countries, including the US, UK, France and Germany. Manafort approved the project. It included conventional outreach to newspapers and” black operations “. Friedman denies wrongdoing and says his role was that of a” PR guy “.

Viktor Yanukovych

Ukraine's former chairwoman and “ministers “. After winning his country's 2010 election, Yanukovych jailed his defeated rival Yulia Tymoshenko. Her case prompted criticism from the Obama administration and EU. His government then money various anti-Tymoshenko strategies, including a VIP lobbying operation with hired EU ex-politicians. Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2014 following anti-government protests.

Serhiy Lyovochkin

Yanukovych's chief of staff, referred to in Friedman's documents as “SL”. Manafort reported to Lyovochkin on sensitive operations. Lyovochkin in turn briefed Yanukovych and managed pays, sources in Kiev say. Lyovochkin declined to comment.

Konstantin Kilimnik

A Russian national who headed Manafort's office in Kiev. According to Mueller's latest indictment, the FBI assesses that Kilminik is connected to Russian military intelligence. Kilimnik served as Manafort's translator and worked with him closely.

Yulia Tymoshenko

Ukraine's first female “ministers “. Tymoshenko co-led the pro-western 2004 Orange Revolution. After two stints as “ministers “, she lost the 2010 presidential election to Yanukovych. Tymoshenko was arrested and detained in 2011 on what she and the international community called politically motivated charges. She got out of jail in 2014.

Photograph: Bloomberg

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Contacted by the Guardian, Friedman said these earnings were “declared”. He confirmed his company worked for Ukraine from late summertime 2011 on what he called ” a public relations and country profiling project “. He said:” It was not a secret or covert scheme. We had PR people proposing interviews and features to newspapers quite openly .”

Journalist Alan Friedman, pictured in Rome.

Photograph: Cosima Scavolini/ Splash News

He said its aim was to promote the Ukraine government's then policy of moving closer to a partnership agreement with the EU.” Our intent was to keep a steady communication going in favour of dialogue between Brussels and Kiev. That was our message.

” We never supported a pro-Moscow stance and had previously been ended our relationship when the Ukrainian president abandoned closer ties with Europe .”

Asked whether “hes having” registered with the US Department of Justice, Friedman said he had never ran as a lobbyist for Ukraine. He added:” I never registered as a foreign agent because I never was one.

” I was a communications guy, doing PR media strategy work in Europe for a client, like dozens of London PR companies that work for a variety of governments .”

The documents show Friedman reported directly to Kiev. In spring 2012 he told the foreign minister, Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, he had” generated dozens of positive op-eds/ interviews/ articles for publish and Tv” and” disseminated positive news stories” to virtually 2,000 publications.

Key to this strategy was a fake thinktank, the Center for the Studyof Former Soviet Socialist Republics( CXSSR ), put in with Manafort's backing. Friedman used it to publish dozens of positive narratives about Yanukovych, many of them authored by a” Matthew Lina “.

Lina's comment pieces criticising Tymoshenko and Obama's state department ran on the conservative US website RedState. Friedman told Manafort his editorial squad ghostwrote an article by Yanukovych published by the Wall Street Journal.

He claimed credit for a Tymoshenko profile written by the Journal's Matthew Kaminski. Kaminski said Friedman was never information sources,” or even someone that as far as I can remember I had any contact whatsoever with “.

In April 2012 Friedman sent another ” highly confidential” two-page document to Manafort. It set out are projected to launch a” special website” entitled The Tymoshenko Files. The site would purport to belong to Inna Bohoslovska, a Ukrainian deputy and Tymoshenko critic.

In fact, Friedman would ” discreetly prepare, implement and maintain” the site, the document said. It would include “ghost-penned” blogs and” a quasi-novella serialisation “. Asked about the website, Friedman said he had never written” any content “.

Rick Gates attends a court hearing in Washington DC. Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/ Getty Images

Emails find by the Guardian show a regular pattern of interaction between Manafort, Friedman, Gates, Kilimnik and Ukrainian officials. Gates, who went on to work with Manafort on the 2016 Trump campaign, wrote several messages. In February Gates admitted conspiracy and lying to the FBI, and agreed to cooperate with Mueller.

At the time Kilimnik was the Russian administrator of Manafort's Kiev office. Kilminik is understood to be” Person A” in Mueller's latest indictment, filed last week. It says the FBI believes Kilimnik has ties to Moscow's GRU spy bureau, and adds that Gates was aware of this. Kilimnik denies a connect. Friedman confirmed he had satisfied Manafort and Gates but said he had done so” because the client asked me to “.

Manafort's media operation included attacks on Clinton. In October 2012 Gates emailed Manafort and Friedman, flagging a piece written by the journalist Ben Shapiro. The Breitbart article criticised Clinton for her public support of Tymoshenko, who had recently made an electoral pact with the far-right Svoboda party.

The article cited a Jewish “leader” who accused Clinton anonymously of creating a” neo-Nazi Frankenstein “. Gates wrote:” Gentlemen- Here is the first part of a series of articles that will be coming as we continue to build this effort. Alan, you get full credit for the Frankenstein remark .”

The alleged use of offshore accounts is likely to interest the FBI. Manafort is accused of concealing more than $ 75 m earned from his work in Ukraine.

Yanukovych's attempts to woo western leaders ended in October 2013 when he accepted a bailout from Moscow. He fled to Russia after anti-government protests. In 2015 Friedman wrote an authorised biography of Silvio Berlusconi. Manafort continued to work for Yanukovych's party up until he joined Trump's campaign. Manafort denies wrongdoing and has said he will fight Mueller's charges.

Read more: www.theguardian.com