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How Trump’s Paul Manafort Became Expert On “Crooked” Washington

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How Trump’s Paul Manafort Became Expert On “Crooked” Washington

Paul Manafort

Will veteran GOP lobbyist Paul Manafort bring a measure of respectability to Donald Trump and his disreputable campaign apparatus? The Republican lobbyist isn’t likely to engage in the thuggish antics made infamous by campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

But when I saw Manafort yapping about “Crooked Hillary” — while assuring other insiders that Trump is merely “playing a part” on the stump — I recalled certain aspects of his resume that deserve fresh scrutiny now.

Manafort first drew public attention during the Reagan era, when he and his lobbying partners represented Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, a world-class kleptocrat whose theft of enormous amounts from his country’s treasury I helped to expose in The Village Voice more than 30 years ago (with my esteemed colleague William Bastone, who later created The Smoking Gun website). Few official criminals in the 20th century were as audacious and greedy as Marcos and his shoe-fetishist wife Imelda, but when their image cratered after our investigation, Manafort gladly took nearly a million dollars to apply lipstick to those pigs.

Not content with the tainted Marcos lucre, Manafort and company also advocated on behalf of international gangsters such as Mobutu Sese Seko, the kleptocratic dictator known as the “King of Zaire”; Jonas Savimbi, the reputed cannibal and blood-diamond purveyor who tried to seize power in Angola; Said Barre, the authoritarian crook who left the failed state of Somalia to pirates and jihadis; and Ukrainian overlord Victor Yanukovych, the corrupt, Kremlin-backed autocrat thrown out by massive street protests two years ago for fixing a national election.

How did Manafort become the lobbyist-of-choice for these odoriferous characters? His reputation as a powerful Washington insider was elevated by one of the Reagan administration’s worst scandals – the looting of Housing and Urban Development funds by well-connected Republicans like Manafort, who quietly stuffed their pockets with federal funds while bemoaning “big government.” In Congressional testimony, Manafort admitted to successfully peddling influence for big money – which impressed Mobutu so much that he hired the firm. The result was that taxpayers got fleeced for hundreds of millions of dollars, over and over again, ripped off in perfectly legal fashion by Manafort and his clients. Unlike several Republicans implicated in the scandal, Manafort not only escaped indictment but actually prospered as a result of his notoriety.

But don’t worry: Trump is going to clean up Washington corruption and waste. You can tell by the company he keeps.

Photo: Paul Manafort appears on Meet The Press

Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers.

Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003).

Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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  1. JPHALL April 26, 2016

    Is anyone really surprised?

    1. Elizabethfsarratt April 26, 2016

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  2. Dominick Vila April 26, 2016

    Manafort represents what is left of the days of United Fruit, Batista, Trujillo, Perez Jimenez, our adventurism in places like Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, funding death squads in El Salvador and Colombia, and our obsession with communism and the so-called “domino effect”. Manafort represents the last of those responsible for a foreign policy, lucre, and adventurism, that turned our claims of freedom and democracy into a joke in many parts of the world, and paved the way for the rise of socialist leaders in so many Latin American, Asian, and African countries.
    Judging by Trump’s most recent rallies, I’ll be surprised if Manafort can reshape The Donald’s persona and mannerisms, at best, he may be able to redirect his discourse from overt expressions of prejudice and hatred to more benign issues such as trashing the GOP, and later Democrats in general. If there is one thing to be said about Trump, it is that he is an equal opportunity employer. He despises and uses everyone around him, regardless of how they look like, their ideology, or what they stand for. For him, everyone is nothing more than tools – and fools – to achieve The Donald’s ultimate goal.

  3. charleo1 April 26, 2016

    Telling, isn’t it? That Trump, the so called non-politician, has felt the need to hire an old school, garden variety inside the beltway hustler, to clean up his image for the general election. To try to put lipstick on what is, and always will be, a very ugly, albeit clever pig. That has over the course of his campaign literally plumbed the depths for what passes as credible/make that mentally stabile, Presidential material on the once Conservative Right. In a complicated World, where the stakes have never been higher, electing Trump would be akin to hiring your plumber to preform your by pass surgery. But on a similar more ominous, and dangerous note, he is also on an unstoppable course to be the nominee of what is fundamentally a political organization that has deteriorated into an adolescent fit throwing orgy, by play acting to be having the biggest conniption in the room. It is this persona, this loudmouthed, buffoon, who acts like he doesn’t care if the sun don’t shine, he’s gonna say it, whatever” it” happens to be. Is the mess of a general election candidate, that Manafort is charged with cleaning up for company. At least long enough to calm the doubts of enough Lefties that vote for Trump out of anger over the Sander’s loss. Or in some misguided, (2010) effort, “to teach their Party a lesson.” Like too many did back then over healthcare reform. And if we enjoyed how that turned out, we’re going to be simply ecstatic over the prospects of a President Trump leading the free World. Could that really happen? Absolutely it could, if the Democratic Party doesn’t unite, and stop it. As per usual, my fellow Democrats, it’s up to us to clean up another Republican mess, for the good of the Country.

  4. Otto T. Goat April 26, 2016

    You have no leg to stand on, Hillary supporter.

    1. Independent1 April 26, 2016

      You’re aware right? That no sane poster on the NM gives one ounce of credibility to anything you post. You’re posts are nothing but a joke!!!!

    2. Sand_Cat April 28, 2016


  5. Jack Spade May 19, 2016

    Paul Manafort hasn’t been around this long and met this many presidents and politicians because he says or does the wrong things. He is a brilliant business man and attorney just like 99% of all politicians in the govt’. Your remarks are ludicrous. Manafort plays to win. That’ why he lives in Trump Towers and you people live in little pink houses. Pick yourself up, get some ideas from people like Paul Manafort, that way it creates a level playing field. You gotta put the time and effort into the game…to get any return. Just like the Stock market. Don’t hate the game…hate the players.


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