When Donald Trump needed help securing the GOP nomination earlier this year, he turned to one of the most seasoned “fixers” in the party – a high-powered lobbyist and businessman by the name of Paul Manafort. It seemed like a good move at the time. Manafort, who has worked for GOP candidates since Gerald Ford’s run in 1976, managed to pull it off, helping “The Donald” to become the party’s nominee. However, now that Trump’s Russian connections have come to light and are being called into question, Manafort is proving to be a major liability – and one that could bring down the GOP front runner.
It turns out the Mr. Manafort has his own intimate ties to the Russian political machine. Those ties involve a massive web of corruption and deceit, including payoffs and alleged money laundering. Those activities may even skirt dangerously close to treason. The current question burning in everyone’s minds today is this: why did Manafort receive $12.7 million USD in cash payments from corrupt and discredited pro-Russian leader, former Ukranian president Viktor Yanukovych?
Manafort, one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington D.C., has served as political adviser to Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bob Dole during their candidacies. However, Manafort’s work as a political consultant has not been limited to candidates and office-seekers in America. Manafort’s other clients over the decades have included Angolan military strongman Jonas Savimbi, Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, former French Prime Minister Édouard Balladur (who was allegedly involved in the Rwanda genocide of 1994 as well as a kickback scandal known as the “Karachi Affair”), and Mobutu Sese Seko, military dictator of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Manafort’s recent client, Viktor Yanukovych, was elected Ukrainian President in 2010 amidst allegations of fraud. His presidency was marked by massive corruption and widespread cronyism. During his time in office, there was a wholesale transfer of public institutions and resources into the hands of a small number of wealthy elites. One of the primary beneficiaries was Yanukovych’s own son, Oleksander. In 2014, the Ukrainian Parliament removed Yanukovych from office.
Like Trump, Yanukovych has been a great admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin. And like Manafort’s other clients over the years, he stole billions of dollars from the citizens of his country for the benefit of himself and his cronies. Nearly $13 million of that wound up in Manafort’s pocket. Those payments, which had not been reported (Manafort has confessed to receiving payments under the table in the past), are now under the scrutiny of Ukrainian investigators under the country’s new government.
The investigation involves a number of questionable transactions that include off-shore shell companies and an $18 million deal to sell Ukraine’s cable TV networks to a company formed by Russian billionaire entrepreneur named Oleg Deripaska – who just happens to be a good friend of Putin – and Manafort himself. That company, Pericles Emerging Markets, has since gone under. In 2014, Deripaska sued Manafort in the Cayman Islands in an attempt to recover his investment. Incidentally, Deripaska has been refused entry into the US by the State Department because of his alleged connections to the Russian organized crime syndicate.
In a not-so-odd coincidence, it was less than a month ago that a DNC consultant who just happened to be researching Manafort’s Russian business dealings found that her email account had been hacked.
Currently, Manafort’s attorney, Richard Hibey, denies that Manafort received any payments. Hibey also denies that his client supported any illegal activities or supported anyone involved in corruption. He calls the allegations “heavily politically tinged” suspicions, adding that it is “difficult to respect any kind of allegation of the sort being made here to smear someone when there is no proof and we deny there ever could be such proof.”
Perhaps there is no hard evidence – yet. But it doesn’t look good. Over the period during which Manafort’s lobbying firm, Davis, Manafort & Freedman, advised Yanukovych and his party, it was never registered with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent as required by Federal law. It may not have been necessary if the firm’s role was limited to an advisory role. However, it appears that Manafort’s services to former President Yanukovych went beyond giving advice. Manafort has done some public relations work for Yanukovych, attempting to repair his tarnished reputation in the US and EU. He also assisted Yanukovych in the preparation of a report justifying the illegal re-opening of a case by the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office in 2010 against his political rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Everything indicates that Donald Trump’s campaign manager and chief advisor is in it up to his neck. These revelations couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Trump campaign, now that his ties and business dealings with Russia are increasingly being called into question. As investigations into Manafort’s business dealings go forward, what everyone is asking is: how much did Trump know about all of this – and when did he know it?