Paul Manafort is one of five Americans who have been indicted in the special counsel’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election and is waiting in an Alexandria, Virginia jail for the beginning of his first trial, set to begin on July 25. His second, in Washington DC, is scheduled for September 17. He faces more than 300 years in jail for the crimes he has been charged with (engaging in a conspiracy against the United States, engaging in a conspiracy to launder money ($18 million), failing to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, making false statements, and witness tampering) and is at the center of intense public scrutiny as the first person to go to trial in the Russia investigation.
But who is Paul Manafort? And how did he find himself center stage in the investigation? In Part 1 of Paul Manafort’s story, we will explore the path that led to the Trump campaign and eventually to jail for the lobbyist whose own daughter says has “no moral or legal compass.”
Paul John Manafort Jr, 69 years old, was born in Connecticut and is married to Kathleen. They have two daughters, Jessica and Andrea. Paul attended Georgetown University and, before becoming a lobbyist, he practiced law.
In 1976, Manafort was a delegate wrangler for Gerald Ford’s campaign as it faced a primary challenge from Ronald Reagan. He served in Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign from 1978 to 1980, as deputy political director for the RNC, and then served in President Reagan’s White House. He was an adviser to the campaigns of George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole.
He was a founding member of the lobbying firm of Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly in 1980 and met Rick Gates, his right hand man who has pleaded guilty to charges filed by Robert Mueller, when he was an intern there. BMSK was in the top five firms on “The Torturers’ Lobby” list for receiving money from regimes which abuse human rights after representing Jonas Savimbi, Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, and others.
The Atlantic profiled Paul Manafort in an article, Paul Manafort, American Hustler, and chronicles his long path to notoriety.
“Paul’s not especially ideological,” his former partner Charlie Black told me recently. Many of Manafort’s colleagues at Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly professed to believe in the conservative catechism. Words like freedom and liberty flowed through their everyday musings. But Manafort seldom spoke of first principles or political ideals.
The man who once told the Washington Post that Machiavelli is the person he would most like to meet eventually ended up being hired by a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska in 2005 to help stop the democratic revolution that was sweeping across Ukraine. Always on the prowl for business opportunities in the region, he teamed up with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian born, Russian military trained translator. Konstantin bragged openly about being Russian military intelligence (GRU) and, after becoming Manafort’s protege, came to be known as “Manafort’s Manafort” for his habit of snappy dressing in the style of his American mentor. They worked for Deripaska to rebrand the pro-Russia Ukrainian politician, Viktor Yanukovych, who narrowly won the presidential election in 2010.
The AP reported that, while he worked for Deripaska, Manafort pitched an idea that he said would benefit the Putin government: he would influence news coverage and politics within the US in such a way that would benefit the Kremlin “at the highest levels of the U.S. government — the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department.”
Manafort secretly worked for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2005 and proposed an ambitious plan to promote the interests of “the Putin Government” and undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics. The plan was to mirror lobbying and political consulting work that Manafort was already conducting in Ukraine at the time.
“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”
Paul Manafort did not disclose his lobbying to the Justice Department as required by law and his activities on behalf of a foreign government wouldn’t be publicly known until years later, when he was once again swimming in American political waters.
Manafort, with Gates and Kilimnik by his side, leveraged his political power in Ukraine into business opportunities, founding a investment firm named Pericles. Deripaska, the man known as “Putin’s favorite industrialist”, invested $18.9 million in the company. When the company failed and Deripaska asked for an accounting of the money he lost, Manafort, Gates, and Kilimnik were all named in the suit Oleg filed demanding his money back. The court filing from 2014 states, “It appears that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have simply disappeared.” They reportedly stopped responding to phone calls and emails. The Atlantic reports this is Manafort’s M.O.
Deripaska’s attorneys had leveled a serious allegation—and true to his pattern, Manafort never filed a response. Those who have known Manafort the longest suggest that this reflects his tendency to run away from personal crises: “He’ll get on a jet and fly off to Hawaii—and will come back when everything blows over,” an old colleague told me, recalling Manafort’s response to a scandal in the late ’80s.
In the summer of 2014, Manafort’s role as Yanykovych’s loyal advisor came crashing down when Yanykovych was deposed amid a revolution, The Atlantic explains.
Manafort had stuck with Yanukovych as the president had initiated criminal investigations of his political opponents, opened the government’s coffers to his cronies, and turned his country away from Europe and toward Russia. He’d stuck with him to the gruesome end, amid growing popular unrest—right up to the slaughter of more than 100 protesters by government forces on the Maidan. He’d remained faithful to Yanukovych while large swathes of the strongman’s circle abandoned him. Perhaps living so long in moral gray zones had eroded Manafort’s capacity to appreciate the kind of ruler Yanukovych was, or the lines he had crossed. (He is now being tried in absentia in Ukraine for high treason, although he has denied any culpability from his perch in Moscow.) The previous December, as protesters had gathered on the Maidan, Manafort had texted his daughter Andrea, “Obama’s approval ratings are lower than [Yanukovych’s] and you don’t see him being ousted.”
Hackers, possibly angry Ukrainians, hacked into Manafort’s daughter’s phone last year and released years worth of her texts. Manafort has confirmed the authenticity of some of the published texts. Those 300,000 texts, Business Insider reports, reveal that Manafort’s daughters’ opinion of him and his business practices is less than flattering.
In a series of texts reviewed by Business Insider that appear to have been sent by Andrea to her sister, Jessica, in March 2015, Andrea said their father had “no moral or legal compass.”
“Don’t fool yourself,” Andrea wrote to her sister, according to the texts. “That money we have is blood money.”
“You know he has killed people in Ukraine? Knowingly,” she continued, according to the reviewed texts. “As a tactic to outrage the world and get focus on Ukraine. Remember when there were all those deaths taking place. A while back. About a year ago. Revolts and what not. Do you know whose strategy that was to cause that, to send those people out and get them slaughtered.”
In another text to her cousin, who was also her father’s business partner, Andrea called Manafort “a sick f—ing tyrant.”
Manafort fell on hard times financially. His Ukrainian cash cow had been deposed and was sheltering in Russia. A powerful Russian oligarch was demanding an enormous amount of money returned – money Paul Manafort did not have. His family and personal life were also rocky. He had been having an expensive affair with a younger woman and his daughters caught him. Twice. His marriage was in jeopardy and he had a breakdown.
But 2016 saw him back in Washington DC desperately attempting to hitch his wagon to candidate Donald Trump’s star. The Trump candidacy was Manafort’s ticket to security and legacy. His friends were concerned… they knew that his lack of moral compass and questionable business practices meant that his past could not withstand the scrutiny that would come from running a presidential campaign.
Paul Manafort ignored the warnings, like a gambler who is convinced the next hand will be the hand that sets everything to rights. It was a desperate gamble… he offered to work for the Trump campaign for free and when he was hired by the Trump campaign, a series of events were set in motion which led to him being indicted and waiting in a prison in Virginia for his trial to begin later this week.
In Part 2, we will examine Paul Manafort’s brief but important role as campaign manager for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.