One thing I don’t understand about Paul Manafort is how he had the courage to rip off a Russian oligarch who is good friends with Vladimir Putin and who, according to Forbes, is worth $5.2 billion. But that’s what he did:
Manafort’s work with [Oleg] Deripaska continued for years, though they had a falling out laid bare in 2014 in a Cayman Islands bankruptcy court. The billionaire gave Manafort nearly $19 million to invest in a Ukrainian TV company called Black Sea Cable, according to legal filings by Deripaska’s representatives. It said that after taking the money, Manafort and his associates stopped responding to Deripaska’s queries about how the funds had been used.
Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, Deripaska’s representatives openly accused Manafort of fraud and pledged to recover the money from him. After Trump earned the nomination, Deripaska’s representatives said they would no longer discuss the case.
I’m not the first person to ask this question. Last August, Mark Hemingway of the Weekly Standard wrote an article with the headline: Why Would Trump Aide Paul Manafort Rip Off a Russian Mobster?.
Hemingway speculated that it could be best explained as a money laundering operation in which both Deripaska and Manafort were witting participants. Essentially, Manafort would pretend to rip off Deripaska and Deripaska would sue him in a country with weak enforcement mechanisms so that the case would go nowhere and he could report losses. I can’t assess complex foreign transactions involving shell companies and tax havens. But Hemingway made another point I’d like to share with you:
Also worth noting: Deripaska is barred from traveling to the United States because of supposed ties to organized crime. So why was Manafort doing business with Deripaska, and why would Manafort seemingly be so foolish as to rob a mobster of millions of dollars?
The following is from a October 30, 2008 article in the Guardian:
Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch who entertained the business secretary, Lord Mandelson, and the shadow chancellor, George Osborne, on his yacht in Corfu this summer, was denied a visa to the US due to his alleged “criminal associations and relationships”, the Guardian has learned.
A senior former state department official said US officials who considered Deripaska’s case in 1998 believed he was associated with several Russians involved in organised crime, including Anton Malevsky, head of the notorious Ismailovskaya Brotherhood. Others believed by the US authorities to be his associates were involved in the so-called Aluminium Wars during the mid-1990s which resulted in dozens of killings. Deripaska has always strenuously denied any links to organised crime.
The state department official said: “There are four grounds that are relevant in Deripaska’s case. Number three is, does this person have criminal associations and relationships? That’s the one that applied to Deripaska.”
The timeline is a little confusing here because I’m citing a 2008 article about a 1998 decision to bar Deripaska from entering the country due to his criminal associations. In the middle of that timeline, in 2005 and 2006, Deripaska entered into a contractual relationship with Paul Manafort. And that’s what is being widely discussed today because of the reporting of the Associated Press:
Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.
Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.
“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”
Now, Manafort’s actions here are shady, obviously. He’s dealing with a man who the U.S. government considered to be tied to an international Russian crime syndicate, known for its extreme violence. He’s plotting to help Putin dominate the politics of former Soviet Socialist Republics, which is clearly at odds with U.S. policy. But it was also a crime if he didn’t disclose what he was doing, which he didn’t:
Manafort did not disclose details about the lobbying work to the Justice Department during the period the contract was in place.
Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, people who lobby in the U.S. on behalf of foreign political leaders or political parties must provide detailed reports about their actions to the department. Willfully failing to register is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, though the government rarely files criminal charges.
I could write about these topics at length, but I want to leave you with two observations and a question.
The first observation is that from the second that Manafort took a job with Donald Trump’s campaign, the campaign was compromised because of the risk that the Russians would reveal Manafort’s undisclosed lobbying work and other nefarious activities. So, even if Manafort was no longer willing to work for Putin’s interests against our own, he could be coerced in that direction, and so could Trump for having hired him.
The second observation is that although violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act are rarely enforced, they certainly can be. And that gives the FBI the crime they need to haul Manafort in and ask him to start talking.
My question is, who convinced Donald Trump to hire Paul Manafort in the first place?
And to answer that, you might want to look at this:
Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly (often simply Black, Manafort) was a lobbying firm based in Washington, D.C.. Formed in 1980, it merged with Gold & Liebengood to form BKSH & Associates in 1996.
The firm was one of the first political consulting firms to work for Ronald Reagan’s presidential candidacy in 1980, and would later also have extensive connections to the presidential administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
The firm has represented, and lobbied the US Congress on behalf of, numerous foreign governments and heads of state from both representative democracies and unelected dictatorships including Mohamed Siad Barre of Somalia, dictator Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, dictator Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, and Jonas Savimbi of Angola. During the 1988 presidential campaign in the United States, it was disclosed that Black, Manafort retained the island nation of the Bahamas as a client at a time its leadership was being attacked for alleged ties to drug traffickers. BMSK officials insisted that they intended only to help the Bahamas obtain more United States aid for efforts to curb drug smugglers.
Domestically the firm has represented Bethlehem Steel and Tobacco Institute, and helped elect a slew of lawmakers—including Senators Phil Gramm, Jesse Helms, Charles McCurdy Mathias Jr., Arlen Specter, Paula Hawkins and David F. Durenberger, and worked on legislation that benefitted the firm’s clients.
The principals in this firm were:
- Charles R. Black Jr.
- Paul J. Manafort
- Roger J. Stone
- Peter G. Kelly
- R. Scott Pastrick
- James C. Healey
- Lee Atwater
There’s that name “Roger Stone” again.