U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman offered to provide briefings about the progress of the campaign last year to a Russian billionaire with close ties to the Kremlin, media reported on September 20.
"If he needs private briefings we can accommodate," Paul Manafort wrote in an e-mail to an intermediary between him and Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, according to The Washington Post and The Associated Press, which said Manafort's spokesman confirmed the e-mail exchanges.
The Washington Post said Manafort wrote the e-mail to a former employee, Konstantin Kilimnik, who had worked with him on political consulting in Ukraine.
Manafort asked Kilimnik to pass the offer of private briefings to Deripaska, but it is not clear whether the offer ever reached Deripaska, The Washington Post said.
The e-mail was sent a little over a week before the Republican National Convention in July 2016 at which Trump clinched the party's presidential nomination, media said. Manafort was leading the Trump campaign's day-to-day operations at the time.
Media said the e-mail was one of tens of thousands of documents turned over to Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who along with several congressional committees is investigating ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Mueller's office declined to comment. Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni confirmed the e-mail's existence but told The Washington Post and AP that no briefings ever occurred.
In a statement, Maloni dismissed the correspondence as "innocuous" and said it was part of an effort by Manafort to collect money from clients who owed him money.
The Washington Post reported that several e-mail exchanges between Manafort and Kilimnik discussed money that Manafort said he was owed by former clients in Eastern Europe.
"It is no secret Mr. Manafort was owed money by past clients after his work ended in 2014," Maloni said.
The Washington Post reported that wording in the e-mails appeared to have been deliberately vague, with Manafort and Kilimnik never mentioning Deripaska by name, but that investigators believe key passages refer to Deripaska -- in some cases by his initials, OVD.
In one e-mail, investigators believe the term “black caviar” is used to refer to payments Manafort hoped to receive from former clients, according to The Washington Post.
AP reported in March that before joining Trump's campaign, Manafort secretly worked for Deripaska and proposed plans for political consulting work in Eastern Europe that he said could "greatly benefit the Putin government."
The AP cited U.S. diplomatic cables from 2006 describing Deripaska as "among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis" and "a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin's trips abroad."
Deripaska sued the AP for defamation over the story in May in a U.S. court.
A spokeswoman for Deripaska, in response to a Washington Post inquiry, dismissed reports of the e-mail as "fake" and the result of scheming by "consultants in the notorious 'beltway bandit' industry." Kilimnik did not immediately respond to e-mails requesting comment.
Russia has denied it interfered in the U.S. election, and Trump has said there was no collusion with his campaign.
With reporting by The Washington Post, AP, and Reuters