March 29, 2022
While writing about the Hunter Biden laptop story, we still had the same nagging question: How did Paul Manafort, with all his heavy Ukraine-lobbying baggage, get to chair Donald Trump’s campaign in the first place? So we started looking.
Oddly, when we did a Yahoo search on that question, the first link that came up was to an entity called Just Security, funded in part by Open Society Foundations. What? Thanks, but no thanks, Yahoo; George Soros isn’t exactly the person to tell us the truth about Manafort (or anything else). Don’t click the link unless you want to see billionaire Soros staring back at you with those lifeless eyes, no doubt from his Bond villain-style subterranean lair, complete with piranha tank. All he needs is a white Persian cat.
The next story Yahoo selected for us appeared more promising: an article in Time magazine from October 2017, just a few days after he’d been indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller. The article says that in mid-2016, “when his nomination seemed in peril, Trump turned to a longtime acquaintance, Paul Manafort, who owned a condo in Trump Tower and had a political pedigree that peaked in the 1970 and ‘80s, despite Manafort’s reputation for representing foreign autocrats.”
Not much information there, but the Time article at least asks the question we’re asking: “How did such a colorful political operative, known for his international clientele and larger-than-life reputation, wind up trading in the jet-setting pace for one more domestic political campaign?” They said they found Trump’s decision to hire him “confounding.”
The problem with this article, though, is that its sources can’t agree on why Trump thought hiring Manafort would be a good idea.
The piece summarizes three basic theories and offers some interesting background on Manafort’s relationships with other Trump associates such as Roger Stone.
We also learn how Manafort and his baggage quickly became problematic and led to infighting. Too much of the campaign became about him.. Trump said “You’re fired!” on August 19, 2016. Manafort had chaired the campaign for only three months.
But as Columbo would say, “There’s something about this that bothers me...” The presence in Trump’s campaign of Manafort, with his previous work for a couple of pro-Russia political parties in Ukraine, seems all too convenient for those working so hard to falsely tar Trump as an ally of Putin. Is there more to this story than we have heard in the media?
Fortunately, we found a mother lode of information about Manafort, his dealings in Ukraine, and how they relate to what happened later with the Trump campaign and special counsel. It’s Andrew C. McCarthy’s book BALL OF COLLUSION, specifically Chapter 3. Read this chapter, and you’ll be taken on a guided tour of the Washington DC and Ukraine swamps, going back decades. And it’s swampier and murkier than you ever imagined, populated with Russians and Ukrainians, Republicans and Democrats.
In “An Old Story: Beltway Consultants as Agents of the Kremlin,” McCarthy explains that when the Soviet Union disintegrated at the end of 1991, “suddenly, a gravy train roared through the badlands of ‘gangster capitalism’...the spoils of a fallen empire that became available to the shrewdest and most ruthless bidders.” On one side were the oligarchs, who often came up from nothing in Soviet Russia through alliances with organized crime and corrupt government officials. On the other were the well-connected American lawyers and lobbyists who worked as political operatives.
This is the muck Manafort swam in, and I suppose there’s a certain skill in prospering there without ending up sleeping with the fishes in the Black Sea. As McCarthy puts it, “The guys with their snouts in the trough are the same guys who write and enforce the laws, the benefits accruing as they glide between the ‘public service’ and the private lobbying sides of the revolving door –- the door between political office and political consultancy, between law enforcement and law evasion.”
If you’re like me, when you read that sentence, you realize our own country can increasingly be described this way. We don’t have to go to Ukraine to encounter it –- it’s here.
In fact, you might be shocked at some of the names of Americans politicians and bureaucrats that turn up in this story: the venerable Bob Dole, John McCain (a lot), former FBI Director William Sessions, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, Hillary (of course) and many more. I’ll quote one key paragraph: “Most Americans are not familiar with the fraught history and politics of Ukraine...the netherworld of Washington political lobbying for foreign interests –- especially for despots and Mafiosi-turned-magnates. When Hillary Clinton lost an election, and it came time for her progressive sympathizers and Republic anti-Trump agitators to pin her defeat on Russian espionage, it was easy to craft a narrative that painted Trump political consultants who’d worked for Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs as Putin’s puppets. All that was necessary was for the rest of us to forget the last quarter-century, to develop amnesia about Washington’s projection of post-Soviet Russia as a political and business partner, an effort that Mrs. Clinton herself had been in up to her neck...”
And though Manafort seems like a villain right out of Central Casting, McCarthy explains that in his role as a consultant he was toeing a line, constantly playing one sordid side against the other, and even playing Europe against Moscow. It was a balancing act. Claiming that Manafort was “Putin’s puppet” is revisionist history.
Read this chapter, and you’ll see how ridiculous it was to malign Manafort as an agent of Russia. Influence peddling is not the same thing as collusion. What he was doing as a consultant was the norm --- it was "unsavory but legal."
The various personalities in Manafort’s world are too numerous to mention here –- encompassing many of the people involved with the “dossier” –- but it’s not necessary to keep track of them all. There were Republican consultants, Obama consultants and Clinton consultants. In McCarthy’s words, “The Ukrainian politician is navigating a minefield of power centers, amid rampant corruption and organized crime.”
So in the end, given the pervasiveness of The Swamp, I guess it’s not so strange after all that someone with these shady connections ended up heading a presidential campaign –- Trump’s or anyone else’s –- though it sure came in handy for Trump’s enemies when they were looking for anything to attack. Keep in mind, too, that those from the most prestigious firms would not work for Trump. Heck, I’ll bet some would work for a corrupt Russian oligarch before they’d work for Donald Trump!
So he might not have had much to choose from. Remember how hard it was for him to find attorneys when he was impeached? Law firms that might've agreed to represent him were threatened and ostracized. We’ll keep looking for more on this story, but for now, this seems to be an explanation that actually makes sense. It could just be that Manafort was super-aggressive, had handled many campaigns, would actually take the job, and, hey, had a condo right there in Trump Tower. Where the FBI probably spied on him.