PAUL Manafort, Jr., the campaign manager of US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, is under fire after being named this week in a Ukrainian corruption investigation.
Growing scrutiny into the background of the 67-year-old lobbyist however has also unearthed past dealings with dictators, including the late former President Ferdinand Marcos who is likewise back in the news amid controversy over the planned burial of his remains in the military-run Heroes’ Cemetery.
Manafort, back then a young Republican operative, landed what is said to be one of his first major deals, advising Marcos in the closing months of the strongman’s two-decade rule.
The now defunct consulting outfit Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly Public Affairs Co. was paid $950,000 in November 1985 to “lobby, represent, advise and assist in the promotion” of certain “political and economic objectives,” US government records showed.
Manafort was to monitor activities of the Reagan White House and the US Congress that could affect the Philippines, represent the country in Washington, and provide public relations advice and assistance.
The money came from the Chamber of Philippine Manufacturers, Exporters and Tourism Associations, which held office at the government-run Philippine Center for International Trade Expositions on Roxas Boulevard, the US records showed.
In April, Manafort defended his Philippine role in an interview with Fox News.
“In the Philippines I was tasked to go out there and help bring the transition of Marcos to an end,” he told Fox anchor Chris Wallace.
Just a few months after Manafort signed the Philippine contract, Marcos was ousted by the “People Power” revolution in February 1986.
Manafort has also denied funneling Marcos donations to Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign.
The smooth-talking, sharply dressed Manafort has become the public face of the most controversial US presidential campaign in living memory: a professional spokesman who never strays off message as he bats aside allegations of a campaign in disarray or a candidate going off the rails.
Reagan, Bush, Dole
In a 40-year career he advised the Republican presidential campaigns of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole; he or his firms, such as Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, have been paid millions to lobby for or burnish the reputations of foreign clients.
“Name a corrupt despot, and Black, Manafort will name the account: Ferdinand Marcos, $900,000 a year; the now deposed Somalian dictatorship, $450,000; the drug-linked Bahamian government $800,000,” wrote Spy magazine in a 1992 article about lobbyists.
But the client who has landed the Trump campaign in hot water is Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin former president of Ukraine whom Manafort helped rebrand until the leader fell from power during a popular uprising in 2014.
Others were Angolan warlord Jonas Savimbi, whose rebel group got $250 million under Reagan and Bush in its war against Angola’s socialist government, and the late Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
His name also appears in connection with a French political scandal known as the “Karachi affair” in which two arms contracts that France signed with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in 1994 are believed to have resulted in kickbacks to finance the presidential campaign of France’s Edouard Balladur.
In 2013, Manafort admitted being paid by a Lebanese-born intermediary for advising Balladur on his ultimately unsuccessful bid.
Another client was the Kashmiri American Council, named in 2011 by prosecutors as a front organization for Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency. Yahoo News says the Council paid Manafort’s firm $700,000 between 1990 and 1995.
Riva Levinson, who worked under Manafort from 1985 to 1995, likened it in her memoir to “playing one big game of Stratego: building armies and scheming to take over the world… In fact, at times, that is exactly what was going on.”
Originally from Connecticut, Manafort’s father was a Republican mayor in the largely Democrat town of New Britain. His grandfather emigrated from Italy and in 1919 founded what became a successful construction company.
Manafort graduated from Georgetown University with degrees in business administration and law. Besides working on Republican presidential campaigns, he was a founding partner in Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly founded in 1980 and Davis Manafort, both now disbanded.
Defending his client roster on Fox News in April, Manafort said Savimbi was America’s man and working against a “Soviet dictatorship that was put up in Angola.”
In Kiev, Manafort said he worked to bring Ukraine into Europe. “And we did,” he told Fox.
Manafort helped Yanukovych fine-tune his image by softening his pro-Russia rhetoric albeit as he was accused of creeping authoritarianism, and while Ukraine dropped in global ratings for press freedom.
He was credited with Yanukovych making more effort to win votes in the Ukrainian-speaking west, away from his traditional Russian-leaning heartland, and with giving speeches in Ukrainian instead of Russian.
Yet his ties with the former Ukrainian president, today exiled in Russia, have come under the microscope as Trump defends Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader and calls for a reset in relations with Moscow.
The head of Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau, Artem Sytnyk, said this week that more than $12 million was earmarked for payment to Manafort from 2007 to 2012, although it was not clear if he received the money.
Manafort denies any wrongdoing, saying he had “never received a single ‘off-the books cash payment,’” or worked for the governments of Ukraine or Russia.
His position on team Trump marks his return to Republican presidential politics after 20 years—he was reportedly considered but rejected in 2008 by John McCain, allegedly alarmed in part over his Yanukovych ties.
He joined in March, as an efficient, professional insider tasked with making sure that Trump won the necessary number of party delegates, but quickly replaced Corey Lewandowski as manager in April.
Manafort is married, and reportedly divides his time between Virginia, Florida and New York, where he has an apartment in Trump Tower.