For a convicted felon dumb enough to lie to Robert Mueller after agreeing to a plea bargain, Paul Manafort'sure gets a lot of credit. To some, he's the man who took a drifting presidential campaign and helped deliver an unlikely nomination for Donald Trump. This represented a triumphant return to domestic politics after a decade in Ukraine, where Manafort polished the previously unelectable Viktor Yanukovych and took him to an improbable 2010 victory as that nation's president.
But dig a little deeper into Manafort's time in Ukraine and a different picture emerges. Under President Yanukovych, Ukraine was a kleptocracy run by and for a gang of crooks who had carved up the country after the fall of the Soviet Union. Manafort may have introduced Yanukovych to power dressing, a good barber, and a neat line in soundbites. But, in the end, this made little difference in an election already bought and paid for.
So why was Manafort paid vast sums (more than $60 million at last count) if his brand of political consultancy wasn't essential for victory? It was because Manafort gave the campaign the international respectability it needed to conduct a huge money-laundering operation necessary to handle the theft of the country's wealth.
Manafort, of course, is now in jail, having been convicted of multiple counts of financial fraud related to his role in Ukraine.
In November, he was accused by Robert Mueller, the special counsel looking into ties between the Trump Administration and Russia, of lying to federal investigators, putting his plea bargain at risk.
The underlying criminal charges against Manafort deal with how he tried to bring the money he had earned in Ukraine into the United States by illegal means, but do not fully explain why Manafort was working for players in Ukraine or the nature of their work together. It is true that Manafort's political savvy and experience were attractive to the men behind Yanukovych. A longtime political consultant who specialized in representing repressive regimes, Manafort knew how to lobby successfully in the United States and elsewhere.
Moreover, Manaforts record indicates that he didn't give a damn who he worked for--just as long as the money came in. He had earned significant amounts in the service of military dictators including Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then Zaire). He also worked extensively with the Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. All three resorted to oppression, abduction, murder, and torture to achieve their political goals, and enriched themselves in the process.
None of this perturbed Manafort unduly, and he was paid handsomely for his services, which included helping these figures legitimize the millions they had stolen from their countries. One of Imelda Marcos's last acts before fleeing the Philippines was to get Manafort on the phone to thank him for his efforts. His reputation in the Philippines was such that one member of Congress there, former journalist Teddy Locsin, said, "Manaforts name [then] was like Voldemort today."
Although Manafort's client was Yanukovych, his route to Ukraine was via Russia. His first contact was with long-time Putin ally Oleg Deripaska, who became one of the richest and most influential men in Russia after emerging on top from the bloody aluminium wars...