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Saturday, November 18, 2017

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

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