WASHINGTON — A firm run by Donald Trump’s campaign chairman directly orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling political party, attempting to sway American public opinion in favor of the country’s pro-Russian government, emails obtained by the Associated Press show. Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, never disclosed their work as foreign agents as required under federal law.

The lobbying included attempts to gain positive press coverage of Ukrainian officials by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and AP. Another goal: undercutting American public sympathy for the imprisoned rival of Ukraine’s then-president. At the time, European and American leaders were pressuring Ukraine to free her.

Gates, who worked for Manafort’s political consulting firm at the time, personally directed the work of two prominent Washington lobbying firms in the matter, the emails show.

Manafort’s and Gates’ activities carry outsized importance, since they have steered Trump’s campaign since April. The pair also played a formative role building out Trump’s campaign operation after pushing out an early rival. Trump shook up his campaign’s organization again this week, but Manafort and Gates retain their titles and much of their influence. The new disclosures about their work come as Trump faces criticism for his friendly overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Neither Gates nor Manafort commented when reached by the AP on Thursday. The two men have previously said they were not doing work that required them to register as foreign agents.

The emails show Gates directed Washington lobbying firms, Mercury LLC and the Podesta Group Inc., between 2012 and 2014 to set up meetings between a top Ukrainian official and senators and congressman on influential committees involving Ukrainian interests. Gates noted in the emails that the official, the foreign minister, did not want to use his own embassy in the United States to help coordinate the visits.

Gates also told the firms to gather information in the U.S. on a rival lobbying operation, including a review of its public lobbying disclosures, to determine who was behind that effort, the emails show.

And Gates pushed the firms to undercut sympathy for Yulia Tymoshenko, an imprisoned rival of then-President Viktor Yanukovych. The Ukrainian leader eventually fled the country in February 2014 during a popular revolt prompted in part by his government’s crackdown on protesters and close ties to Russia.

The emails do not describe details about the role of Manafort, who was Gates’ boss at the firm, DMP International LLC. Current and former employees at Mercury and the Podesta Group, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they are subject to non-disclosure agreements, told the AP that Manafort oversaw the lobbying efforts and spoke by phone about them. Gates was directing actions and seeking information using an email address at DMP International, which he still uses.

Manafort did not return phone and email messages Thursday from the AP to discuss the project. Gates said he was busy with Trump campaign focus groups and would review the AP’s questions in writing but then did not respond.

After AP reported earlier this week that Manafort helped the Ukrainian political party secretly route at least $2.2 million to the two Washington lobbying firms, Manafort told Yahoo News that AP’s account was wrong. “I was not involved in any payment plans,” Manafort said.