Taking up where we left off in Part 1, Paul Manafort, on the run from Oleg Deripaska, a wealthy and powerful Russian oligarch who was looking to recoup the $18.9 million investment Manafort lost, and down on his luck both professionally and personally, saw the Donald Trump candidacy as his golden ticket. He had worked for Trump years previously, lobbying on Trump’s behalf to reroute planes from flying over Mar-a-Lago, and he had an apartment in Trump Tower, which offered enough incidental contact with Trump to know how to seek an in to the campaign.
In February 2016, he sent a memo to Trump via Thomas Barrack Jr, a mutual friend of Manafort and Trump, in which he strategically offered to work for the campaign for free. In it, he touted his long experience in Republican politics and emphasized his current outsider, anti-establishment status by pitching his years of foreign experience as a positive and declaring Karl Rove his political “blood enemy” since the 60s. By March he was in the campaign and quickly at odds with then campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. On June 20, Manafort was promoted to campaign manager after Corey was fired.
In his time with the campaign, Manafort was directly involved in some of the most suspicious events that brought Trump campaign officials in direct contact with Russian nationals and his past contacts with the pro-Russian Party of Regions in Ukraine cast his actions in a dubious light.
George Papadopoulos emailed Manafort, in addition to others, about his efforts to set up a meeting between Putin and Trump.
We know via leaked emails turned over to investigators, Manafort, immediately after being hired by the Trump campaigned, was in contact with his Ukrainian protege, Konstantin Kilimnik. Paul inquired whether OVD (Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska) was aware of his new role and asked “How do we use to get whole?” in an apparent bid to eliminate his outstanding debt.
Manafort also offered “private briefings” to Deripaska in those same emails to Kilimnik. Deripaska is, as oligarchs are, close to Putin. And, while it is unclear whether those briefings occurred, Alexander Navalny released a tape of a suspicious gathering on a yacht in the waters of Norway. He alleges Oleg Deripaska met with Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodk to convey information passed to him from Kilimnik from Manafort. The timeline bears out the fact that these allegations could be true: Manafort’s email to Kilimnik offering private briefings to Deripaska was sent on July 7, 2016. Manafort and Kilimnik met in New York on August 2. The fishing trip on Deripaska’s yacht took place over August 6, 7, and 8, 2016.
Paul Manafort, as Trump campaign manager, oversaw the Trump campaign weaken the GOP platform in regards to support of Ukraine at the Convention in Cleveland in July 2016. It was a move that caused consternation among Republicans and approval from Russia.
Manafort was also mentioned in the Steele Dossier, on page 7. The dossier alleges that Manafort was the manager of a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the campaign and the Russian leadership using Carter Page and others as intermediaries. The dossier also alleges Yanukovych had told Putin that he ordered “substantial kickback payments” to Mr. Manafort. Manafort denied the allegations, saying they were “garbage” and it was a plot by the Democrats and Hillary Clinton.
When Manafort’s connections to the Party of Regions via secret ledgers that detailed $12.7 million in cash payments was revealed in August 2016, Manafort tried to hang on but Donald Trump accepted his resignation on August 19. However, Manafort remained in contact with the campaign, offering advice through election day.
Manafort’s friends warned him that his past would not stand up to the scrutiny running a presidential campaign would inevitably bring. They were right.
In October 2017, Manafort’s home was raided by the FBI and he was indicted on multiple charges in two jurisdictions. In Virginia, he faces 18 counts, including five counts of filing false income tax returns, five counts of bank fraud conspiracy, four counts of failing to report foreign bank accounts, and four counts of bank fraud. In DC, he faces seven charges in relation to his foreign work: conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, failure to register as a foreign agent, making false statements about working as a foreign agent, false statements, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He also faces charges of witness tampering and obstruction of justice while awaiting trial. Konstantin Kilimnik, believed to be in Moscow, was also charged with witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Rick Gates, Manafort’s right-hand-man, was charged along side Manafort and has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the special counsel’s office.
While Manafort’s current legal troubles do not involve the campaign or even Russia directly and his trial will not mention Russia or the 2016 presidential campaign, he was undoubtedly aware of many of the numerous contacts the Donald Trump campaign had with Russian nationals.
As Manafort goes to trial tomorrow, his optimistic belief that he will come out on top in the next hand of cards may be tested. He is facing over 300 years in jail and if he decides it would behoove him to cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation, he could pose a severe threat to individuals high in the Trump administration. On the other hand, his life, should he finagle a path away from dying in jail, might be challenging since he has made enemies of powerful people in Russia.
At any rate, Manafort is facing serious charges of illegal conduct… money laundering, making false statements, failing to register as a foreign agent and lying about it, bank fraud, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy against the United States. These are serious criminal charges that demonstrate a long pattern of behavior and he had caught the eye of the FBI long before he joined the Trump campaign. One wonders at the level of desperation that led Paul Manafort to come out of the shadows to run the Trump campaign when doing so would shine a spotlight on all the skeletons in his closet. What was the draw for him to do so? Was he simply an aging lobbyist wanting to have one last battle in American politics? Was he desperate to leverage a role into the campaign into breaking even with Deripaska? Or was there a more nefarious purpose behind his actions?
The trial in Alexandria, Virginia is scheduled to start July 31 and is expected to last about three weeks. The DC trial is set for September 17. The country will be watching to see if this will be the last chapters in Manafort’s legal troubles or if it is just the beginning.