Three Reasons Americans Should Worry About Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort, former head of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign, might be a foreign government operative. Some claim he’s just a white collar criminal. What’s indisputable is that Manafort has been charged as part of an FBI inquiry.

There are things we don’t know about Manafort’s professional dealings. What we know suggests we haven’t been told everything. Here are three reasons Americans should worry about Paul Manafort.

Manafort Made Money From Russian-Related Interests… And Might Be Paying Them, Too

When former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions were facing a difficult election in 2004, they knew what to do: call the American lobbying firm of Davis, Manafort and Freedman.  This is how Manafort made an ally so close to Russia that Yanukovych, when driven out of Ukraine, was offered asylum by the government claiming a right to bifurcate Yanukovych’s own country.

From 2004 to 2010 Paul Manafort worked as an adviser to Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions, with its anti-European Union, pro-Russia stance. According to the US Justice Department, Manafort’s firm received over $63,000 from the Party in six months of 2008, and later returned to Ukraine in the midst of more serious political turmoil. He claims to have left the nation in October of 2014, never again to return, but the Ukrainian government has records of visits into 2015. Exactly what he did on those trips – and whether, or how, he was paid – isn’t entirely clear. But it is known that Manafort helped create a political party, Opposition Bloc, in 2004… just to foment opinion useful to the Party of Regions.

The Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau opened an investigation into Manafort’s activities after the Russian annexation of Crimea, and in August of 2016 it made a shocking announcement:  it had obtained a ledger containing handwritten payments from the Party of Regions to Manafort. The ledger allegedly showed $12.7 million being paid to Manafort through Party accounts. Then the AP reported that he’d routed more than two million dollars into the accounts of Washington DC lobbying firms. Paul Manafort was being accused of money laundering. His response? He never received the cash.

But bigger money was yet to come. Paul John Manafort, manager of a presidential campaign from June to August of 2016, filed paperwork in 2015 showing that he owed $17 million to Russian interests. For example, he owed almost eight million dollars to a company owned by Vladimir Putin’s friend, oligarch Oleg Deripaska – the same man who contracted to pay Manafort more than ten million to “promote” Russian interests, and who sued Manafort and his partners for $19 million in connection with a failed cable TV company. Twenty-nine million in Russian business – one man.

Of course, if you need more, don’t forget another debt reported by the Associated Press: $9.9 million paid to Paul Manafort through various shell companies owned by a Ukrainian Minister of Parliament.

Assume a presidential campaign manager should represent the interests of a candidate – and that the candidate’s interests should reflect the nation’s. There are problems with men like Manafort running a major campaign for any amount of time. The temptation to skew policy in favor of friendly foreign governments could be strong if you worked for one before running a US presidential campaign. But that temptation could become irresistible when tens of millions of dollars are involved.

Paul Manafort Has Done Image Makeover For Some Really Bad Guys    

Davis, Manafort & Freedman became Paul Manafort’s lobbying firm in 1996. Prior to that he cofounded the firm of Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly. Both had a habit of catering to warlords and despots. Joseph Mobutu of Zaire? Check. Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines? Definitely. These men were renowned for human rights abuses and violence… so they hired Manafort to soften their images. If we assume this says something about Manafort as a person, the case of Joseph Savimbi might be the most informative.

Savimbi was the head of UNITA, or the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola. His movement fought a violent struggle against communist opposition. Both sides committed war crimes. But Savimbi decided that his own acts – such as rejecting the results of an election in 1992, causing more than 1000 deaths in the capitol and hundreds more in the hinterland – were to be forgiven, or at least accepted, so he hired Manafort’s former lobbying firm in 1985 for the sum of $600,000.

Manafort went to work in Washington DC, working to resuscitate Savimbi’s image in aggressive ways. He arranged for Savimbi to address the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, begging the question whether the tour wasn’t a sort of investor invitation. It would be a strange coincidence that an Angolan touting his anti-communist credentials would just happen to update American conservatives on the news in his country, after all. What exactly was Manafort hired to do?

The Center for Public Integrity refers to a foreign agent filing in which Manafort’s former firm promised “participation in the development and implementation of a strategy to aid in the procurement of foreign assistance, generating increased favorable coverage of UNITA and issues that relate to it within the U.S. media and to minimize and prevent any negative press to the extent possible.” (My emphases.) The real purpose of the public relations gambit was realized when Ronald Reagan praised Savimbi – and the US Congress voted to apportion him hundreds of millions in aid. Joseph Savimbi used Paul Manafort – and six-hundred-thousand dollars – to buy many times that amount in United States taxpayer support.

How did he perform this miraculous makeover? There are reports of Manafort and his then-partners taking meetings and phone calls with congressional aides, just for the purpose of inflating Savimbi’s image in DC. Others report that the firm pressured State Department officials. There’re even stories that Manafort’s firm tried to curry favor with National Security Council members. What lacks in all these tales – which have been confirmed – is any effort by Paul Manafort to change Savimbi’s violent politics.

The Center for Public Integrity describes Savimbi as “a brutal murderer who even had two of his own aides killed because he viewed them as rivals [.]” Yet Manafort’s efforts to sustain Savimbi’s image and rule very likely prolonged the Angolan Civil War, merely because Manafort guaranteed the UNITA’s flow of money, creating a barrier to the peace process after the Soviet Union abandoned UNITA’s opponents. Savimbi wanted to win – and with Paul Manafort’s lobbying, he had no incentive to settle. When confronted about this issue, one of Manafort’s spokespersons said “the firm does not ‘attempt to explain away’ concerns about human rights. Instead, she said, ‘we try to open a dialogue’” – the last refuge of those who would do nothing.

Paul Manafort has worked with some very bad men. He has made them look honorable and gotten our government to compensate those men. It’s no accident that the Center for Public Integrity listed the Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly firm as one of the top five in the world for receiving money from regimes with bad human rights records.

Paul Manafort Has A Bit Of A History Of Involving Himself In Intelligence Activities

There are two kinds of lobbyists: those who know they’re lobbyists, and those who don’t. Those in the latter group eventually find themselves in weird situations that devolve into major problems. Then the law gets involved. Special Counsel is assigned. Conspiracy. Money Laundering. The live TV exchanges become compelling stuff. The fact is, when a lobbyist starts looking like a spy, nobody really wins.

Lobbyists are not intelligence operatives. Yet Paul Manafort has already crossed the line between lobbyist and operative at least once. Back in the 90s, Pakistan had a problem. Terrorism gave it a horrible name. So the nation tried to change this, using the Kashmiri American Council to pay $700,000 to Manafort in exchange for promoting the struggles of the Kashmiris. It was a smokescreen. The FBI got involved, which is how we know the money actually came from Pakistan’s intelligence service, paid over four years. A Pakistani spy claimed that Manafort knew this.

You can definitely argue he crossed the line again when he pretended to be a CNN journalist and went to the Kashmiri region in 1994 as part of the job. That’s when he ‘interviewed’ Indian officials about the Kashmiris… while using a tourist visa. It was not an accident. It was all part of his employment. Paul Manafort has shown he’s willing to pretend – at minimum – for pay.

Not too surprisingly, Manafort is also willing to be used without too much concern for consequences. Look at his association with Yanukovych again. Yanukovych won the Ukrainian presidency in 2004 but was forced out of office when the results were contested in protests for months in what became known as “the Orange Revolution.” So he turned to Manafort, who advised him to convince the public that the protesters were at fault – even though the US Ambassador had already said that Paul Manafort’s very presence would be bad for the United States. Ten years later, after protests led to riots that would claim Ukrainian lives, Paul Manafort’s daughters claimed that the violence was just part of one of his political strategies, in precisely the same vein.

But maybe the biggest problem with being an operative instead of a lobbyist, for Manafort, is the pattern of business. It looks like Manafort is willing to be paid by other nations to look the other way in getting clients what they want.  Paul Manafort worked on Trump’s campaign, and on prior Republican presidential tickets. He’s also worked with Russians like Konstantin Kilimnik, who’s alleged to have had a role in changing the Republican Party platform to make it friendlier to Russian interests. There’s also no denying that he’s worked for other nations and was supposed to report it all because US law requires lobbyists to disclose details of their dealings with foreign leaders or their political parties.

Yet we didn’t know about the $17 million Manafort made in Ukraine between 2012 and 2014 until he already had a presidential campaign manager position. Why didn’t the Georgetown-educated attorney disclose this? Didn’t he have his own lawyer (which would be absolutely necessary for a professional lobbyist)? But, then again, Manafort also promised to file retroactively as a foreign agent in April of last year… and only got around to it that June.

A year later the lobbyist-turned-intelligence operative had to watch FBI agents searching his home for evidence. Today he’s facing a federal investigation relating to financial improprieties and his efforts to dabble in intelligence-related activities…

So, is Paul Manafort guilty of being something more than a lobbyist? Ask the federal courts. They’ll likely make that determination soon enough. But Americans should be worried about Manafort. He ran the campaign of the current President of the United States. He worked on prior campaigns. He also might have gone into these jobs owing favors to foreign governments, and definitely has worked for a variety of foreign leaders. He has even been sued over a multi-million dollar debt allegedly owed to a Russian billionaire. And he’s known to play spy for pay. But what does Manafort do again? He’s a lobbyist? Lobbyists aren’t supposed to be this well-known. The FBI spent untold sums investigating his ties to foreign nations and his finances. Whether or not he’s convicted in the Mueller probe, Americans should be worried.

Paul Manafort might very well be what he hopes to be: more than a lobbyist. A lot more, in fact.  


 

Sources:

The Torturer’s Lobby: How Human Rights-Abusing Nations Are Represented in Washington” by Pamela Brogan (Washington DC: The Center for Public Integrity, 1992); “Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Donald Trump’s Campaign Chief” by Andrew E. Kramer, Mike McIntire and Barry Meier, Aug. 14, 2016 (nytimes.com/2016/08/15/us/politics/paul-manafort-ukraine-donald-trump.html); “Authorities Looked Into Manafort Protégé” by Kenneth P. Vogel and David Stern, March 8, 2017  (politico.com/story/2017/03/trump-russia-manafort-235850); “Mueller Team’s Focus On Manafort Spans 11 Years” by Evan Perez and Shimon Prokepuecz, September 20, 2017 (cnn.com/2017/09/19/politics/mueller-manafort-pressure-decade-investigation/index.html); “Paul Manafort’s Association with Joseph Savimbi” (wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Manafort#Association_with_Jonas_Savimbi).