Although Paul Manafort is a name America has heard a lot this past year, for the last 19, he’s been nothing but an obscure political hack who spent a lot of time working for dictators outside America. The story of his infamy spreading wings is not a very pleasant one. A shadier web of deceit, greed, and treason is hard to imagine, and it’s hard to see through all the unsettled muck. It’s been a while now since last November, though, and things are clearing up, leaving us with some very large questions.
So why Manafort? He hadn’t been seen in United States politics since Bob Dole’s desiccated campaign in 1996. Every question we ask about him seems to raise twenty more. How does a guy go from a 20-year nobody, to the head of a Presidential campaign?
And why would the Trump campaign stick its neck out by hiring such a suspect figure?
The ostensible reason given is that Manafort’s old partner Roger Stone did not like Corey Lewandowski, Manafort’s predecessor, and pulled his name out of a hat. But the latest Manafort revelations have left many speculating in other directions. Russian money found its way into the Trump campaign. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director assigned to look into Russia’s interference in the 2016 Presidential election, seems confident Manafort may have had something to do with it. His investigation of Manafort now spans 11 years.
Given Manafort’s contacts with shady political figures in Russia, and the massive amounts of money he reportedly was paid by them over the years, this seems logical. Increasingly, Paul Manafort has come to be seen as the key to solving the riddle of Russiagate.
It seems clear he owes money to Russian oligarchs, who sent him in to act as a go-between. It is the opinion of Millennial Democrats that one of the biggest red flags here was when Manafort was able to continually make his presence felt in the Trump team long after he was technically fired. If Trump is innocent, why would he have let Manafort anywhere near the door after they fired him, knowing what kinds of people he was in bed with?
Manafort was a principal at the lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, which had close links to the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, and is one of the first lobbying and political consulting firms of this kind. According to Riva Levinson, one of his former colleagues, Manafort took a “mercenary” approach to lobbying the US government on behalf of international clients accused of killings, rapes and other atrocities,
In that role, in 1989, he had no qualms about doing business with the “murderous dictator” of Somalia, Levinson recalls in a new memoir, Choosing the Hero: My Improbable Journey and the Rise of Africa’s First Woman President.
“Arrogant, narcissistic, egotistical, brilliant – all of that I can handle in Paul,” Levinson writes. “But it is Paul’s mercenary attitude that puts us at odds.” Those same awful traits are what endear him to his masters.
Back in 2004, Victor Yanukovych’s presidential bid was looking like a disaster, but he was Putin’s man. Manafort was brought in to save it, and he did. He’s had a place at their feet ever since.
On August 19 of last year, while Manafort was at the head of the Trump campaign, the New York Times reported that Manafort’s name was listed in a secret ledger of cash payments from the ruling pro-Russian party in Ukraine, along with the details of a failed business venture with Russian billionaire Oleg Victor Deripaska. He submitted his resignation shortly thereafter.
For his part, Manafort was most likely motivated by a desire to “get whole” with Deripaska, who he’d lost money for in 2007. At this time, a private-equity fund was set up by Manafort in the Cayman Islands, Pericles Emerging Market Partners.
In 2008, Deripaska transferred $18.9 million to Manafort through this fund so that it could purchase Black Sea Cable, a Ukrainian telecommunication company. Manafort botched it, and then refused to answer his phone. The oligarch requested the “winding down of the partnership.” The petition alleges that when Deripaska asked for an accounting of the investment in 2013, Manafort did not respond.
As of last year, however, he was trying to work something out. Emails exchanged between Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, his contact in Ukraine (the Ukrainians refer to Kilimnik as Manafort’s Manafort, e.g. the key to solving the riddle of Manafort), make it clear Manafort has been trying to get back in the billionaire’s good graces, and was willing to trade on his position as Trump’s campaign manager to do so. The arrangement they made has had very grave consequences for Planet Earth.
The deal was for Manafort to help Russia subvert the United States election, in order to weaken the candidacy of then- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The plan was simple: Manafort getting paid, Trump getting power and attention, and Putin getting his claws into all kinds of things while Trump looked aside.
Remember how Trump was seething at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2011, after Obama roasted him on the “birther” conspiracy back in April of 2011? Stupid as it was, the birther conspiracy is believed to be the issue that pushed the new President out in front with the alt right base. That incident gave Trump the edge he needed over the many other Republican candidates in the field last year.
Now that Trump has been elected, and proven himself a total incompetent, the reasons for it all are very clear from Putin’s perspective. Russia, the second strongest geopolitical force on Earth, is being given a free hand. From our perspective, it’s like playing a chess game, in which you get an extra queen, but are not allowed to make any moves.
America has become starstruck and celebrity obsessed. Trump was the latest in a series of celebrity politicians. For a Republican Party softened for the blow by 120 years of continuous decline, he was just right. Perhaps plans for a Trump run were discussed as early as that fateful 2013 trip to Moscow.
The next year, when Russia illegally seized Crimea, President Barack Obama applied economic sanctions against Russia as a result. This made it very difficult for Putin and his oligarch buddies to do business in the USA. Because of this, they were not happy with Mr. Obama, or with Hillary Clinton.
Close attention should be paid to the importance of the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration at the time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and occupation of Crimea. They put a crimp in the high-priced lifestyles of Russian governmental officials, and gave them a clear and simple motive in so doing.
“This is a serious matter and there are real concerns about the pro-Kremlin interests engaged with the Trump team,” said Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook. He was right, of course, but at the time nobody listened. Any political activist who was online in 2016 could have told you the same. Everybody’s listening now.
So what can we learn from all this? What is the meaning of Manafort? His presence should have tripped alarms immediately. It should have been noticed that an absentee political operative, who’d spent 20 years outside of America making dictators rise and fall, had waltzed back onto our scene and taken the reins of a major presidential campaign. But it wasn’t, and now we are living with the consequences. A hard look needs to be taken at what it says about the state of our radar systems, if a criminal like this can make it through them.
For the Democratic Party, at least, the way forward is clear. We support Mueller, keep public focus on Manafort and Russiagate in general, and wait for our chance. Our day to show the difference between us, and this, will come.