When President Trump makes an assertion, it is usually wise to assume that the absolute opposite is true. For instance, when Trump told his supporters that he planned to “drain the swamp” by passing ethics reforms for lobbyists and Congressional Representatives, he was only saying what he assumed people wanted to hear. The president reneged on his promises to broaden the definition of lobbying and to extend the amount of time former legislators are prohibited from lobbying. A candidate who is concerned with the injurious effects of foreign lobbying on American government does not hire Paul Manafort to be the chair of his campaign. According to Corey Lewandowski, the man who ran the campaign before Manafort, Donald Trump realized he had misjudged Manafort’s character on Aug. 14, 2016. That day, the front-page story for The New York Times stated that Manafort was being investigated by federal prosecutors for failing to register as a foreign agent and for assisting in the maintenance of a Ukrainian money laundering operation. Lewandowski claimed that, when Trump read this story, he stated, “I’ve got a crook running my campaign.”
What a stunning revelation it must have been for the future president. But it is difficult to believe Lewandowski’s account of events. Steve Bannon and then-candidate Trump were not shocked when they found out Paul Manafort was a criminal, and they must have made this discovery long before Aug. 14, 2016. No one in Washington fires an employee for committing a crime – they fire employees for getting caught. Less than two years ago, Paul Manafort was the face of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Decades before that, he ran a lobbying firm which worked on behalf of corporate clients like Donald Trump and torturous dictators like Ferdinand Marcos. Manafort also helped Gerald Ford defeat Ronald Reagan in the 1976 Republican primary, and then switched sides to direct the southern division of Reagan’s 1980 campaign. Manafort made it through all those years unscathed because he was never reckless enough to get caught. That changed after the turn of the 21st century.
Six years before he served as the director of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Paul Manafort worked in Ukraine as senior adviser to presidential candidate Victor Yanukovych. Yanukovych had won the presidency over Viktor Yuschenko in 2004, but his victory was annulled by Ukraine’s supreme court due to evidence of voter fraud. On election day in Zhovtneve in 2004, a suburb in the capital of Kiev, thirty men showed up to polling place 73 in masks and tracksuits. The Pro-Yanukovych thugs beat voters with truncheons and poured acid into the ballot boxes. This was the most dramatic instance of election interference, but it was not the only one, or the most pervasive one.
In 2010’s presidential election, prime minister Yanukovych defeated Yuschenko, this time without resorting to Gestapo tactics. He ruled Ukraine as an embezzling oligarch and Russian lapdog until he was deposed by revolutionaries in 2014. Yanukovych’s success from 2010 to 2014 was largely contingent on the work of Paul Manafort, who instructed Yanukovych how to dress, how to comb his hair and how to be a more effective demagogue. Everything came crumbling down in 2014, when government forces murdered over one hundred protestors in Kiev’s Independence Square. The president was charged with high treason and fled to Russia. Paul Manafort was among the last people to abandon his employer.
So, Manafort flew back to the United States, where he hid from FBI agents and Ukrainian moguls from whom he had stolen millions. It is certain that some of Trump’s campaign advisers raised concerns about Manafort’s spotty history before he was hired. But Trump was once a client of Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, one of the first Washington firms to specialize both in electing politicians and in lobbying those politicians. Not only did Donald Trump know that Paul Manafort was a swamp thing, he knew it better than most people. He, just like everyone else in Washington, knew Paul Manafort had worked with pro-Russian oligarchs to drain the Ukrainian government’s coffers of hundreds of millions of dollars. The writing on the wall would not have been much clearer if Manafort showed up to Trump Tower meetings with a GPS tracking bracelet fastened around his ankle.
One can only hope that President Trump is not craven enough to pardon any of his employees who are facing criminal charges. In doing so, the president would let everyone know that he and those who stay loyal to him are above the law. He and his lawyers have already considered pardoning Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort, just as they have already considered firing the special counsel. If the president had his way, federal prosecutors would never have been able to touch Paul Manafort, and Manafort would not currently be strung up on charges of tax fraud, bank fraud, money laundering, lobbying violations and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Regardless of what conservatives believe about bias in the Department of Justice, the special counsel has already brought a fitting end to the career of Paul Manafort. If the president interferes with prosecution, he will show how similar he is to the kleptocratic strongmen with whom Paul Manafort made his devil’s bargain.
Alex Klein is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.