WASHINGTON -- A Kremlin-connected billionaire has accused the Associated Press of generating a "massive and misleading campaign" against him with its recent report on his ties to U.S. President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman.
In paid advertisements published in The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post on March 28, Oleg Deripaska denounced last week's AP report about his work with Paul Manafort, who resigned as Trump's campaign chairman in August 2016 following allegations that he received illicit funds from a Ukrainian political party.
The March 22 AP report said that while working for Deripaska several years ago, Manafort proposed a plan aimed at influencing politics, business dealings, and news coverage across the United States, Europe, and the former Soviet Union in ways that would favor Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"The AP Exclusive asserts also that I signed a $10 million annual contract 'to greatly benefit the Putin government' with Paul Manafort who was supposed to execute it," Deripaska said in the ad.
"I want to resolutely deny this malicious assertion and lie. I have never made any commitments or contracts with the obligation or purpose to covertly promote or advance 'Putin's government' interests anywhere in the world."
The AP report, in fact, does not assert that Deripaska signed a contract aimed at benefiting Putin. Citing "several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records," the report says that Manafort "pitched" such a "confidential strategy plan" as early as June 2005 and eventually signed the $10 million contract beginning in 2006.
Deripaska suggested he was prepared to take legal action against "any person or media" involved in disseminating what he called "false allegations about my alleged activities."
Asked to respond to Deripaska's ad, AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton told RFE/RL in an e-mail, "We stand by our reporting."
The furor over the AP report comes as the Trump administration continues to be dogged by allegations that aides were in communication with Russian officials and representatives during the election campaign.
U.S. intelligence agencies released a report in January assessing that Russia conducted a hacking-and-influence campaign aimed at denigrating Trump's Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Kremlin denies the allegation.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer last week insisted the work Manafort did for Deripaska had taken place a decade ago and was irrelevant to Manafort's job with Trump's election campaign last year.
Manafort proposed the plan to Deripaska as early as June 2005, the AP report said, and eventually signed a contract worth $10 million with the tycoon. The two men had a business relationship until at least 2009.
Manafort last week volunteered to speak to a U.S. congressional committee that is investigating Russia's alleged role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, who chairs the House intelligence committee, said on March 24 that Manafort's lawyer contacted his committee the previous day and offered to make his client available to lawmakers.
FBI Director James Comey on March 20 confirmed publicly that his agency was conducting investigations into communications between Russian officials and Trump associates.
After initially expressing skepticism about that assessment, Trump has said he now thinks Russia was behind the hacking campaign. But Trump continues to insist it had no impact on the outcome of the election.
The House committee is one of at least four congressional committees investigating Russian actions during the 2016 election campaign.
Deripaska said in the March 28 ad that he was "willing to take part" in congressional hearings "in order to defend my reputation and name."
With reporting by AP