Early on Monday morning, news broke that Paul Manafort and his former business partner Rick Gates were turning themselves in to federal authorities to face charges related to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Below, an overview of why Manafort in particular may have been ensnared by Mueller’s investigation.
Q: Who is Paul Manafort?
A: Paul Manafort is a longtime political consultant and lobbyist in Washington. His career took two tracks that are important for understanding how we got to this point.
The first is that Manafort helped multiple Republican presidential nominees manage their efforts at their party conventions, including Gerald Ford in 1976, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 and George H. W. Bush in 1988. He also managed Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential bid.
The second is that Manafort also worked on behalf of a number of questionable international actors, including Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the Russia-backed president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was ousted in 2014, during the period in which Russia-Ukraine tensions spiked. Much more on this below.
Q: What was his relationship to Trump?
A: In March 2016, as Donald Trump was trying to ensure his victory in the Republican nomination fight, he hired Manafort to help corral delegates for the upcoming convention. At the time, you may remember, there was a lot of talk about whether or not Republican delegates pledged to Trump would hold steady as the convention unfolded. Manafort had helped Ford with that task in 1976, fending off a challenge from Reagan. The recommendation to hire Manafort came from Trump’s longtime ally Roger Stone, who’d formed a lobbying firm with Manafort after the 1980 election.
Manafort accepted a position with the Trump campaign for no salary. Manafort’s questionable business associations were well known, but, at the time, Trump was still having trouble attracting top-tier Republican staffers who were skeptical that Trump was a viable candidate.
Once on the campaign, he butted heads with campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. In late June, Trump’s children helped convince him to oust Lewandowski and elevate Manafort, who became campaign chairman. He held that senior position with the campaign until August. On the day he resigned, former House speaker Newt Gingrich told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that “nobody should underestimate how much Paul Manafort did to really help get this campaign to where it is right now.”
Q: Why did he part ways with Trump?
A: For this, we need to talk a bit more about Manafort’s background.
In 2006, Manafort’s company (of which Gates was part) signed a multi-year agreement with a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska apparently based on a 2005 proposal in which Manafort outlined a strategy that would “greatly benefit the [Russian president Vladimir] Putin Government.” Deripaska is closely tied to Putin.
That same year, Manafort began working with Yanukovych’s Party of Regions in Ukraine. In 2010, Yanukovych was elected as that country’s president. In 2014, he was ousted during a popular uprising in the country largely because of his sympathies for Russia.
A ledger found in a former Party of Regions office in Kiev reported last year indicated that Manafort may have received nearly $13 million in off-the-record payments from the party during his time working with them. Manafort denied the allegation, but the Associated Press later confirmed some of the payments.
At the time, Trump was facing a number of questions about his relationship with Russia and any financial ties to the country. Revelation that his campaign chairman may have been paid by a Russian-backed political party helped spur Trump to oust Manafort from his position.
Q: Does this news prove that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia?
It’s important to remember that the investigation by Mueller is looking at Russian meddling in the 2016 election as well as any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents. But as an arm of the Justice Department, Mueller’s team is also authorized to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
Think about it this way. If the police were called to your house to interview you about noise complaint and saw you standing over a dead body holding a knife, that might also come up as a subject of conversation.
Q: What do the charges relate to?
A: The indictment includes 12 counts, focused on a few things: Misleading the government, failing to register as a foreign agent, laundering money and failing to report foreign income.
It includes a conspiracy charge which is broadly about misleading the government, including that Manafort (and Gates) provided false statements to investigators and failed to register as foreign agents. (Manafort eventually did so in June after his work with the campaign drew attention to himself.) This is not a charge the Manafort conspired against the United States on behalf of Russia during the election.
The financial charges relate to $75 million that Manafort and Gates earned overseas, $18 million of which was then allegedly laundered by Manafort. This money was apparently largely earned through the pair’s work in Ukraine.
It’s important to note that these investigations predate Manafort’s time as head of the Trump campaign. In 2014, the FBI began an investigation into Manafort, including a wiretap. (That same year, Deripaska accused Manafort and Gates of taking $19 million from him that was meant to be invested in a cable network in Ukraine.) The investigation into Manafort was restarted in the spring of last year. BuzzFeed reports that the FBI is investigating wire transfers that were made in 2012 and 2013. In other words, even had he not worked with Trump’s campaign, Manafort might have faced an indictment like this anyway.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Philip Bump