Lobbyist and political consultant Paul Manafort used to be President Donald Trump’s campaign manager. Today, however, he finds himself at the center of an ongoing investigation into potential Russian meddling in the United States presidential election.
But while the world waits for that investigation to unfold, Ukraine has its own questions about Manafort.
The consultant was a close advisor to Ukraine’s ousted former president, Viktor Yanukovych, who is currently wanted in Ukraine in connection with the murders of over one hundred people during the 2014 Euromaidan protests. Moreover, while in Ukraine, Manafort is alleged to have laundered $75 million from the country through offshore accounts.
Journalist Franklin Foer recently conducted an in-depth investigation into Manafort’s corruption, publishing the results in The Atlantic. According to him, one of the most startling aspects of the Manafort case is the sheer extent of his influence within the Yanukovych administration.
From EU integration negotiations to editing press releases, Manafort “wasn’t just involved in the highest level in conversations with Yanukovych, it wasn’t just a superficial relationship. He was deeply, deeply involved in governing,” Foer says.
There are also questions abouts how Manafort ended up in such a crucial position in Ukrainian politics. According to Foer, Manafort seems to have made his way into Yanukovych’s confidence through a chain of oligarchs, including Russian Oleg Deripaska and Ukrainian Rinat Akhmetov.
“Yanukovych was in the Czech Republic just after the Orange Revolution. Manafort’s team went to go meet with him,” Foer explains. “And they developed this relationship that would – you know – sometimes it would have highs, sometimes it would have lows, it wasn’t a perfect relationship. But it became a fairly close one and ultimately when Yanukovych needed to trust somebody he would turn back to Paul Manafort.”
While the precise amount of money Manafort laundered from Ukraine and its exact source remain unclear, what is clear is that the consultant’s attraction to the country was financial, Foer told Hromadske.
“When he worked in Ukraine he dropped all of his other clients...because he was making so much money in Ukraine and there was no other place in the world where he could get the type of fees that he received in Ukraine,” Foer says.
Hromadske spoke to The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer to discuss his latest findings on Manafort’s activities in Ukraine.
The story has a lot of details, although we’re still thirsty for more, especially connected to what Paul Manafort was doing here. Maybe you could give some more examples of how deeply he was involved not just in advising President Yanukovych but more or less setting up the policies and some of the activities – and what they were – if we’re talking about Ukraine and especially the last year under Viktor Yanukovych here.
He was intimately involved in every aspect of the discussion about the European Union and joining the European Union. He was involved in brokering discussions between the foreign ministry and Yanukovych – that in the later stages of the Yanukovych administration Yanukovych closed himself off [from] his advisors. Everything became about his family and he stopped even talking to some of his Ministers. But Manafort always had this special power; to talk to Yanukovych. And so, if say that foreign minister wanted to send a message to Yanukovych he could use Manafort to help send that sort of message. I have to tell you [that] when I was in Kyiv I could see some of the files and parts of say, the Ministry of Justice, and it was incredible to me the extent to which I could see Paul Manafort and his operation helping to edit press releases and documents. That he wasn’t just involved in the highest level in conversations with Yanukovych, it wasn’t just a superficial relationship. He was deeply deeply involved in governing.
In particular, if you’re talking about the Ministry of Justice, what were those cases?
I’m thinking mostly of the Tymoshenko case. This was one of the primary things that Manafort did for Yanukovych was he tried to help justify the imprisonment of Tymoshenko. We know about this to a large extent: the way he worked with Skadden Arps and Greg Craig to try to come up with a legal justification – and also the way in which he tried to help create better optics, the public relations around her imprisonment. So that was one of his major portfolio items.
If we’re talking about Manafort coming to this country: yes he was more or less sent by the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska who has some of the assets in this country’s heavy industry. But really how did Manafort get hired by the Ukrainian President, with which Ukrainian business oligarchs was he communicating, who actually paid him?
Manafort came here because he was working with the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and he came at the very very end of the 2004 presidential election to help give almost an assessment – an intelligence report – on Deripaska, about what was happening. And through Deripaska – Deripaska introduced him to Rinat Akhmetov and they developed a sort of independent relationship in the course of the 2004 campaign and during the Orange Revolution. And so Akhmetov helped make this connection to Yanukovych and so when Yanukovych was in the Czech Republic just after the Orange Revolution, Manafort’s team went to go meet with him. And they developed this relationship that would – you know – sometimes it would have highs, sometimes it would have lows, it wasn’t a perfect relationship. But it became a fairly close one and ultimately when Yanukovych needed to trust somebody he would turn back to Paul Manafort.
And if we’re talking about the amount of money, how much approximately had been paid? There were also other oligarchs like Firtash who did – in the end – have connections through the administration of President Yanukovych to Paul Manafort. So really – what amount of money are we talking about and who else paid?
So we don’t know. None of this we know for a fact. We have Robert Mueller’s indictment of Paul Manafort and he talks about $75 million being put into the Cyprus accounts, into the Grenadines and presumably that money came for his work in Ukraine. Some it came from Oleg Deripaska but a lot of it came from Ukraine. So what would happen is that Manafort would go to Serhiy Lavochkin and Lavochkin would go to Yanukovych and say “look, Manafort wants $10 million” and so Yanukovych would say “okay, let’s give him the $10 million” and Lavochkin would go to all the different Ukrainian oligarchs and say “you owe a million dollars” – and the way my sources described it Lavochkin would then take his own cut, a fee for having collected this money on behalf of Manafort.
Frank can you also explain those sums? Is it relatively similar in different countries or in D.C. to pay a political campaigner $10 million? What amounts are these campaigners and political spin doctors usually paid?
That’s part of the reason why Manafort was so attracted to Ukraine. When he worked in Ukraine he dropped all of his other clients and because he was making so much money in Ukraine and there was no other place in the world where he could get the type of fees that he received in Ukraine.
There is a general idea because Manafort hadn’t been at the Radar during Euromaidan, during the Revolution when it became brutal. So to what extent was he communicating with the former President at that time? Was he coming to Ukraine – is there evidence of that? Did he continue to communicate with Yanukovych after that, after his exile?
I don’t have an answer to that question. He was not in Kyiv during Euromaidan and I don’t know to what extent he was communicating with Yanukovych during that period. I know that he was genuinely pushing Yanukovych to join the European Union and I think he may have fallen slightly out of favour when Yanukovych decided to go in the other direction. So I can always speculate about what kind of communication they had during that period – but I can’t really answer your question in a concrete way.
In that regard, what kind of President was he making out of the Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych? What kind of policies can [we] see were drawn by Manafort. Because at different times Yanukovych was playing – I can’t say more liberal – but let’s say more soft and then there would be a tougher version of Yanukovych – more pro-Russian. So what was Manafort’s line?
It’s a little bit hard to say. He was not primarily a policy advisor, he was a political advisor. And you could say that there’s some things that Manafort takes credit for when talking to Americans. So when he’s talking to an American audience he’s very proud of himself for pushing for Ukraine to hand over the last remaining remnants of its nuclear arsenal. That he was very proud of pushing for the European Union. But on the other hand we also know that when the Party of Regions was in opposition he was definitely pushing for an anti-NATO position and that even though he downplays that when he talks to Americans he was doing that. And so I think it’s a mistake to think about him as a policy person. He’s such a mercenary and his view of the world is so political that really what he’s interested in is his client holding power, maintaining power [and] winning re-election.
Your article is so much about human nature, about greed and that’s what seduced Manafort to go and become such a focus of the U.S. media joining the Trump campaign. But there are a lot of questions regarding his connections to Oleg Deripaska, especially after he had some issues with him – probably with spending some of Deripaska’s money and later even having some legal issues with the Russian oligarch. But later what we understood when he had already become the advisor to the political campaigner for Donald Trump – he reached out to Deripaska again. Can you elaborate more on how much we can finally know about this Russian connection that everybody looks [at] and maybe sometimes over does?
I don’t know what the connection is at the end of the day. I know what his relationship was like with Oleg Deripaska. In 2006-2007 he started to talk about investing in Ukraine with Oleg Deripaska and indeed they bought a telecommunications company in Odesa called Chornei Mor. And so they bought this telecommunications company and then the financial crisis happens and Deripaska – who once had $28 billion now needed his money back. So he asked Manafort to sell the company and ultimately Manafort stopped – it seems like he wasn’t able to sell the company. Because there was a question that Deripaska asked which was did Manafort even buy the company that he said he was buying with Deripaska’s money. And so Deripaska does not like to be cheated and so he’s been after Manafort to get his money back. And so as soon as Manafort joined the Trump campaign he tried to use his new position of power to try and get back into Oleg Deripaska’s favour. So he started sending him every press clipping about himself and he tried to promise Deripaska access to the Trump campaign. Now we don’t know what happened. It’s possible that Manafort’s messages to Deripaska never got through, it’s possible that Deripaska hated Manafort so much that he would never have accepted his offer to come into the Trump campaign. It’s just an open question – we don’t know the answer to the question for sure.
/Interview by Nataliya Gumenyuk
/Text by Sofia Fedeczko