For nearly 40 years, Paul Manafort has been one of Washington’s top lobbyists, paid millions of dollars to represent controversial figures from around the globe who needed to burnish their standing in the U.S. capital, including the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos, Zaire’s military dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and most recently Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych.
At the same time, he has been a Republican political operative, advising and serving an array of the party’s presidents since the 1970s. Just last year, he briefly was campaign chairman for the upstart candidacy of real estate mogul Donald Trump on his eventually successful run to the White House.
Now the lobbying and political worlds of the 68-year-old Manafort have achieved a merger of sorts.
A federal grand jury in Washington indicted him in a money-laundering scheme linked to his lobbying for Moscow-supported Yanukovych before the Kyiv leader was ousted in 2014 and fled to Russia in exile. The charges came as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election aimed at undermining U.S. democracy and help Trump win.
By the end of Monday, Manafort was under house arrest, awaiting resolution of charges that could, if convicted, land him in prison for years.
The indictment against Manafort did not describe his tenure as Trump’s campaign chief and was related solely to lucrative lobbying transactions that predated the Trump campaign.
Trump was quick to note, “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign.”
After Manafort pleaded not guilty to the charges, his lawyer, Kevin Downing, told reporters, “I think you all saw today that President Donald Trump was correct. There is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government. Mr. Manafort represented pro-European Union campaigns for the Ukrainians and … was seeking to further democracy and to help the Ukraine come closer to the United States and the EU.”
Downing said, “Those activities ended in 2014 over two years before Mr. Manafort served in the Trump campaign.”
But Manafort was at the top of the Trump campaign for three months in 2016 and Mueller’s investigators are in the midst of a months-long investigation of trying to determine who had contacts with Russia in the long run-up to Trump’s upset win in the November election over former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. One person they could look to for answers is Paul Manafort.