Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager of Donald Trump, is in the klink. It’s OK to be pleased.
As one of the early casualties of the Trump-Russia inquiry, he was first indicted in October 2017, in Washington, on charges of conspiracy, money laundering and false statements. He pleaded not guilty.
Manafort was put under house arrest, but by the holidays he was futzing with the terms of his release, successfully negotiating a Christmas visit to his moated house in the Hamptons — $1.9 million, plus $5 million in renovations. It features statues of giraffes and a jungle cat on the lawn.
Then in March, a judge in Virginia added a second GPS tracker to his ankle and more house arrest after he was indicted again, on 18 new counts of tax evasion and bank fraud. Finally, on Friday he was back in police custody on charges of flagrantly violating the terms of his release when he allegedly attempted to tamper with the testimony of two potential witnesses in one of his criminal cases.
Manafort is now under non-house arrest until his trials start. Regular jail. No larky trips to the Hamptons, no giraffe statues, no last heists.
Manafort comes off like a fancy man. His expensive suits, youthful brunette coif and status as a globetrotting lobbyist can easily make his reported misdeeds seem couture.
But they’re not. Manafort is one of the most malevolent, cunning and predatory figures yet indicted in l'Affaire Russe. He has consorted with some of the worst dictators the world has ever seen.
The son of the mayor of New Britain, Conn., Manafort moved to Washington in the late 1960s to attend Georgetown University. In 1980, along with fellow Young Republicans Charlie Black and Roger Stone (who would also become a close advisor to Trump), he started a firm that eventually dominated lobbying in the Reagan era.
In 1985, Manafort hit the big time. His firm landed a hot client: the corrupt and brutal president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos. By the early 1990s, the monstrous roster included dictators in Nigeria, Kenya, Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia.
In 1992, the Center for Public Integrity had Manafort’s firm squarely in its sights, making his work the centerpiece of a report on firms that cover for warlords and human-rights abusers called “The Torturers’ Lobby: How Human-Rights Abusing Nations Are Represented in Washington.”
That didn’t stop Manafort. His moral flexibility and passion for consumer goods and black ops landed him the plum gig of chief political strategist to Viktor Yanukovych, the famously corrupt president of Ukraine. According to an article by Franklin Foer in the Atlantic, Paul and Viktor used to play tennis and swim naked together.
Those were halcyon days. Rick Gates, who was Manafort’s deputy in those days and has also been indicted in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, once bragged: “We’ve been working in Ukraine a long time, and Paul has a whole separate shadow government structure.… In every ministry, he has a guy.”
Using everything from social media to op-eds to hair products, Manafort aimed to make the Vladimir Putin-aligned Ukrainian dictator, who liked to jail his political opponents, look more palatable to the West. Secret “black ledgers,” which surfaced in March, show Manafort took $12.7 million in fees for his Ukraine work. Yanukovych, who stands accused of killing 82 civilians, mostly protesters, in Kiev in 2014, is in exile in Russia.
In 2006, Manafort found another patron in Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate. They had some good times but Manafort incurred big debts to the oligarch ($19 million, according to a Deripaska lawsuit). Manafort claims he was no longer in arrears by the time he washed up on Trump’s doorstep in February 2016, proposing to be his campaign director pro bono.
But Manafort definitely needed something. He told one of his Ukraine henchmen they could get back on top if they could leverage the media attention he got working for Trump. “How can we use [this] to get whole?” he asked in an email to Konstantin Kilimnik. (Kilimnik has been indicted for suborning witnesses alongside Manafort; the Mueller investigators suspect him of being a Russian spy.)
Manafort spent his months with the campaign, the Justice Department alleges, backchanneling with Russian entities that might have meddled in the 2016 election. One such Manafort-Russia liaison seems to have happened in Trump Tower in June 2016. The notorious meeting also starred Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer trying to prevail on the Trump syndicate to drop sanctions on Russian officials connected to murder and other human-rights abuses.
How does an American dad who looks kind of normal break so bad and yet seem so conventional? Well, above all Manafort was rich, and the stock shenanigans of rich people — shell companies, cash purchases — often get overlooked, as the Panama and Paradise papers, which document offshore banking misconduct, amply reveal. Such financial sleight-of-hand is thought to make the world go round.
But at least one person didn’t turn a blind eye. “Don’t fool yourself,” Manafort’s daughter Andrea told her sister in 2015, in a message apparently stolen from her phone and then published on a hacker website. “That money we have is blood money.”
Trump’s real estate buddy Thomas J. Barrack Jr. once urged Trump to hire Manafort on the grounds that he was “lethal.” He was. And surrounded by people who consider “lethal” a compliment, he got away with it for far too long.