In the first two parts of this series we examined the lives and careers of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at some length. Based on the weight of evidence, we saw that Putin, the product of Russia's authoritarian cultural traditions and its ruthless secret police, is a sworn enemy of the United States and the head of the biggest and most ruthless organized crime syndicate in the world. We also saw the truly mind-boggling depths of Trump's corruption, venality, insatiable avarice, and outright incompetence. More specifically, we noted the fact that Trump has ties to both American and Russian organized crime. We are now ready, therefore, to plunge into the story of those with whom Trump has surrounded himself in his bid for power. It is a disturbing picture that we will now examine.
The Torturers' Lobbyist: Paul Manafort
We have already encountered Manafort, noting briefly his role in putting the corrupt Viktor Yanukovych in power in Ukraine. This fit a pattern in Manafort's career: serving the interests of despots and enemies of human rights. All the way back in 1992, The Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., published this little known report:
Part of it details the activities of a lobbying firm called Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. (The Stone in the title refers to right-wing dirty trickster Roger Stone, who we will look at below.) The conclusions of the report are damning:
... Kenya and Nigeria have widely criticized human rights records. Last year, Kenya received $38 million in U.S. foreign aid, and spent over $1.4 million on Washington lobbyists to get it. Nigeria received $8.3 million and expended in excess of $2.5 million. Whom did both countries call upon to do their bidding before the U.S. government? The lobbying firm of Black. Manafort, Stone and Kelly Public Affairs Co.. which received $660,000 from Kenya in 1992-1993 and $1 million from Nigeria in 1991.
Former Reagan political operative Paul Manafort oversees foreign accounts; his partner, Charles R. Black, was a senior political strategist in the 1992 Bush-Quayle campaign. Their firm's fees to represent Nigeria. Kenya, the Philippines and Angola's UNITA rebel group in 1991 totaled more than $3 million. All four receive U.S. aid and abuse human rights. A spokeswoman for Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly told the Center that the firm does not "attempt to explain away" concerns about human rights. Instead, she said, "we try to open a dialogue."
The report concludes that Black. Manafort, Stone and Kelly had been paid at least $1 million to lobby for human rights violators.
One of Manafort's clients was Jonas Savimbi, an Angolan "freedom fighter" who was waging war against Angola's Marxist government in the 1980s. This summary reveals a shocking fact: Manafort's lobbying group may have actually prolonged the Angolan civil war in order to keep the money flowing.
“[Manafort and company] helped repackage Savimbi as a valiant anti-communist ‘freedom fighter,’” reported Nairobi’s The Daily Nation.
And that so-called freedom fight was quite lucrative for Manafort’s firm—so lucrative, in fact, that they didn’t want it to stop. Spy Magazine reported that the firm’s “hawkish congressional lobbying for more military aid” may have kept a ceasefire in the country’s civil war from coming sooner.
“Clearly, Savimbi wanted peace negotiations for a longer time than Black, Manafort wanted negotiations,” said one conservative Hill aide sympathetic with Savimbi, according to the magazine.
In his memoir, former Sen. Bill Bradley credited Savimbi’s lobbying team with lengthening the war.
“I thought we were making a colossal blunder in Angola,” he wrote. “I had no sense that Jonas Savimbi, our client guerilla warrior, was any more committed to democracy than was the country’s dictatorial leftist leadership. When Gorbachev pulled the plug on Soviet aid to the Angolan government, we had absolutely no reason to persist in aiding Savimbi. But by then he had hired an effective Washington lobbying firm, which successfully obtained further funding.”
The slow peace process meant protracted violence. From 1986 to 1987, the Reagan administration sent a total of $42 million to UNITA. According to Joy James’s book Resisting State Violence: Radicalism, Gender, and Race in U.S. Culture, Savimbi’s army “maimed or killed tens of thousands, creating one of the largest amputee populations in the world through its laying of landmines in farm fields, roads, and school yards.”
As is often the case, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. And Savimbi’s army was particularly violent.
“Indiscriminate killings, mutilation of limbs or ears, and beatings were used by rebels to punish suspected government sympathizers or as a warning against betraying UNITA,” reads a Human Rights Watch report. “UNITA continued to forcibly recruit men and teenage boys to fight. Girls were held in sexual slavery and used as a source of forced labor.”
It wasn't just Savimbi that Manafort, Stone, and partners propped up. Manafort, sometimes working with different partners, also propped up vicious dictator Mobutu Sese Seko:
Mobutu Sese Seko, dictator of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) also benefitted from Manafort’s lobbying expertise. The Guardian described him as “one of Africa’s most flamboyantly corrupt leaders.”
He was also one of its worst. Human-rights activists hold the dictator responsible for government-sanctioned torture, detainment, and rape.
“Quantitatively, I think Zaire has the worst human rights record in Africa,” one UN official told the Chicago Tribune in 1997. “In terms of social and economic rights and the number of state actors violating those rights, it’s massive. And the bulk of human rights violations in this country never will be known. It’s a black hole.”
And the black hole had a powerful ally. The dictator retained Manafort’s firm in 1989 to help remedy some longstanding PR problems—for a cool $1 million a year.
Manafort also represented Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. In 2016, Politico was on it:
When Paul Manafort met Ferdinand Marcos in the 1980s, each had something the other wanted.
Marcos, then in his third decade as leader of the Philippines, had developed a reputation in Washington as a stalwart ally in the fight against communism. But he was facing rising concerns about rampant corruption, plundering of public resources and human rights violations under his increasingly despotic leadership, during which Amnesty International now estimates 34,000 people were tortured and 3,240 killed. [Emphasis added] Meanwhile, Marcos amassed a fortune estimated at $10 billion, spending big on paintings by Pissarro and Manet, a fleet of private planes and helicopters and Mercedes-Benzes.
Manafort, then in his 30s, was a hotshot Republican operative who had made his name helping Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and was pioneering a new form of international political consulting. The model, which allowed him to indulge his taste for the high-life, parlayed his clout with the emergent conservative ruling class into lucrative gigs representing foreign leaders looking to buff their reputations in Washington.
A Marcos front group would eventually hire Manafort to try to help him retain his grip on power, agreeing to pay Manafort’s firm $950,000 a year— one of the first big foreign gigs landed by the firm. But back then, during the Wild West days of the international political industry, there was more buzz in Washington and Manila about Manafort’s proximity to Marcos during a period of epic spending to support a lavish lifestyle and to curry favor with influential Americans.
One example, according to documents, including some published here for the first time: Marcos earmarked huge sums of cash for Reagan’s 1980 and 1984 campaigns — as much as $57 million, according to one claim made to Philippine investigators. There’s no evidence that any cash ever made it into Reagan’s coffers, which would have been illegal since U.S. election laws ban donations from foreigners. And, despite extensive government investigations on both sides of the Pacific into the freewheeling spending of the Marcos regime, there’s never before been much serious inquiry of what ultimately happened to the cash intended for political contributions. The lack of a transparent paper trail — combined with the larger than life personas of Marcos and Manafort — spawned a swirl of theories.
An international human rights group compiled a list of the ten worst human rights violators on the planet. Manafort represented two of them.
But, again, Manafort's biggest successes came in Ukraine. By the spring of 2004, Manafort's international consulting business was in trouble. The Washington Post for August 18, 2016, has the story:
[Manafort] signed on as an adviser to a Ukrainian steel magnate, who, according to people who worked there with Manafort, connected him with one of the country’s most powerful politicians, Viktor Yanukovych. Back home, corporations linked to Manafort purchased a unit in Trump Tower for $3.7 million and then two other high-priced apartments in New York, while Manafort and his wife bought a new house in Florida.
Donald Trump brought Manafort in as convention manager on 29 March 2016. In a statement at the time, Trump said:
"Paul is a great asset and an important addition as we consolidate the tremendous support we have received in the primaries and caucuses, garnering millions more votes than any other candidate," then-candidate Donald Trump said, as quoted in the statement.
"Paul Manafort, and the team I am building, bring the needed skill sets to ensure that the will of the Republican voters, not the Washington political establishment, determines who will be the nominee for the Republican Party," Trump said in the statement. [via ABC News]
Later, when Manafort's glaring conflicts of interest were revealed, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said that Manafort played "a very limited role for a very limited time". [!] This is a pattern that Trump has established: denying he knew people he knew very well, if those people were suddenly in trouble.
Manafort played a decisive role in getting Mike Pence selected as Trump's VP ETC
We go once again to the Washington Post to see the real reason Manafort was let go:
The campaign shake-up followed reports this week that Manafort’s name had surfaced in an inquiry by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine.
The agency has been investigating claims that Yanukovych, who won the presidency with Manafort’s help in 2010, and others aligned with his Party of Regions stole up to $100 billion in assets before Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2014.
Investigators said this week that they discovered a “black ledger” showing that $12.7 million had been designated for Manafort between 2007 and 2012 by Yanukovych’s party. The anti-corruption agency published a list Thursday on its Facebook page of the alleged payments, showing 22 installments assigned to Manafort.
The accusation that $12.7 million was paid to Manafort in secret has been disputed by some Ukrainian authorities on the curious grounds that there are no actual Manafort signatures in the ledger payments. But is not disputed that Manafort made $17 million working for the fantastically corrupt Ukrainian Party of Regions. And this paragraph in Bloomberg caught my eye:
In the disclosures, Manafort’s firm, DMP International LLC, listed three meetings in the U.S. as political activities on behalf of his client. They included one meeting in March 2013 with Representative Dana Rohrabacher, [my emphasis] a Republican from California who has advocated better relations with Russia, according to a copy of Manafort’s filing to the Justice Department, which was provided to Bloomberg News. Manafort made a $1,000 contribution to Rohrabacher’s campaign three days after the meeting, according to the disclosures.
Interesting connection there.
Manafort has gotten himself involved with a number of other shady characters. In The Atlantic for October 2, 2017, that publication revealed that it had examined emails from 2016 sent by Manafort in his efforts to ingratiate himself with Russian oligarch and Putin ally Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska. This was in the period when Manafort was Trump's campaign manager.
The emails were provided to The Atlantic on condition of anonymity. They are part of a trove of documents turned over by lawyers for Trump’s presidential campaign to investigators looking into the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election. A source close to Manafort confirmed their authenticity. Excerpts from these emails were first reported by The Washington Post, but the full text of these exchanges, provided to The Atlantic, shows that Manafort attempted to leverage his leadership role in the Trump campaign to curry favor with a Russian oligarch close to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Manafort was deeply in debt, and did not earn a salary from the Trump campaign.
On November 22, 2017, the McClatchy Washington Bureau examined Manafort's business dealings. Their findings were disturbing:
Manafort's flight records in and out of Ukraine, which McClatchy obtained from a government source in Kiev, and interviews with more than a dozen people familiar with his activities, including current and former government officials, suggest the links between Trump's former campaign manager and Russia sympathizers run deeper than previously thought.
What's now known leads some Russia experts to suspect that the Kremlin's emissaries at times turned Manafort into an asset acting on Russia's behalf. "You can make a case that all along he ... was either working principally for Moscow, or he was trying to play both sides against each other just to maximize his profits," said Daniel Fried, a former assistant secretary of state who communicated with Manafort during Yanukovych's reign in President George W. Bush's second term.
"He's at best got a conflict of interest and at worst is really doing Putin's bidding," said Fried, now a fellow with the Atlantic Council. [My emphasis]
It is interesting, by the way, that the wording of the 2016 Republican Platform plank on Ukraine was changed from an aggressive, anti-Russian stance to language that reflected Russian interests and preferences, an issue we will look at in more detail in another chapter.
Manafort has also had a working relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, who has a background with the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency. Kilimnik worked with Manafort to rehabilitate Viktor Yanukovych's reputation in Ukraine. [Politico, August 18, 2016] Manafort used Kilimnik to make Oleg Deripaska a startling offer. From Business Insider September 21, 2017:
Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a top ally of President Vladimir Putin, reportedly stopped trying to recover money he said had been taken from him in 2014 by Paul Manafort after President Donald Trump won the GOP nomination last year.
The detail, first reported by The Associated Press in March, may shed light on an email Manafort — then Trump's campaign chairman — sent last July from his campaign email address. In the email, he asked his longtime employee Konstantin Kilimnik to offer Deripaska "private briefings" about the campaign.
“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote.
Another interesting associate of Manafort is Dmytro Firtash, a Yanukovych ally and mobster, involved with a number of rackets. Firtash is a high ranking Russia mafia member. In 2008 Manafort tried to arrange an $850 million real estate deal with Firtash, in New York City. The deal fell through, however. And it is striking that during the early 2000s Manafort was able to buy some of the most expensive real estate in the nation with cash, working through shell companies. Where did the money come from?
The FBI raided Manafort's home on 26 July 2017, scooping up a treasure trove of records. It is these records that the Special Prosecutor's office is using to help push the investigation forward.
Manafort was indicted by Robert Mueller in October 2017. The Washington Post summarizes the indictment:
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Monday revealed charges against three former Trump campaign officials — including onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort — marking the first criminal allegations to come from probes into possible Russian influence in U.S. political affairs.
The charges are striking for their breadth, touching all levels of the Trump campaign and exploring possible personal financial wrongdoing by those involved, as well as what appeared to be a concerted effort by one campaign official to arrange a meeting with Russian officials.
One of the three charged, former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, admitted to making a false statement to FBI investigators who asked about his contacts with foreigners claiming to have high-level Russian connections.
Manafort and longtime business partner Rick Gates, meanwhile, were charged in a 12-count indictment with conspiracy to launder money, making false statements and other charges in connection with their work advising a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine.
You can read the original indictment here:
And if you want to sample the full range of Manafort's shockingly corrupt activities in Ukraine, you should go here:
There is one more thing I would like to add. In the Times of London, 17 August, 2016, there is the following item in an article about Manafort's illicit payments from Russian interests:
The senior Ukrainian prosecutor alleges that in 2006 Mr Manafort orchestrated a series of anti-Nato, anti-Kiev protests in Crimea led by Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian Party of Regions — now designated a criminal organisation. The protests forced planned Nato exercises there to be cancelled. No charges were pursued because of a lack of evidence after Crimea was annexed. Mr Manafort did not respond to a request for comment.
Fusion magazine noted in its article of August 18, 2016, that U.S. Marines were the targets of the 2006 protests:
Lt. Colonel Tom Doman’s introduction to Ukraine, at 4 a.m. on May 27, 2006, was not a warm one.
“We had rocks thrown at us. Rocks hit Marines. Buses were rocked back and forth. We were just trying to get to our base.”
Doman and his 112 reserve Marines and sailors were boarding the buses after dark, with backup from Ukrainian special forces, to get to a compound where they would lay the groundwork for Sea Breeze 2006, a larger international training exercise set to involve 3,500 troops from the U.S., Ukraine, and 12 NATO partner countries. But hundreds of protesters seemed to have come out of nowhere to confront them.
The Marines ended up hemmed in by angry locals in Feodosia, a Ukrainian resort city on the Black Sea. “We had people jeering us and protesting against us until we basically left the country,” Doman says. The Americans couldn’t go outside; they couldn’t reach their supply ship in the town’s port. Some protesters wielded what Col. Bill Black, the Marines’ commanding officer, jokingly called “Ukrainian cocktails” — plastic bottles filled with diesel fuel.
Manafort, therefore, may have helped coordinate a demonstration that threatened the lives of U.S. Marines.
Ten years later, he was Trump's campaign manager.