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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has surrendered to federal authorities following indictments of him and an aide, Rick Gates, by special counsel Robert Mueller. The Department of Justice issued a statement disclosing that Manafort and Gates were indicted on 12 counts including “conspiracy against the United States” as well as conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agents of a foreign principal, making false and misleading statements under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and several counts of failure to report foreign bank accounts.

Obviously, Manafort had the perfect qualifications to run the Trump campaign.

Before joining the campaign, Manafort served as a consultant to Kremlin-backed politicians in Ukraine and also to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with very close ties to Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin. While the Trump campaign did not pay him for his services — which ended after reports of illicit payments from Ukraine surfaced in the press — his murky financial ties with Deripaska were said to involve millions of dollars in deals and fees.

Whether those business relationships figure in the current indictments was not immediately clear. Federal agents conducted an early morning raid on Manafort’s house in Virginia last July. Manafort’s real estate deals are also reportedly under investigation by New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman in conjunction with the special counsel.

A former partner of Roger Stone, he has a long history in Washington as a self-described “influence peddler” on behalf of dictators and autocrats, as I noted in 2016 when he joined the Trump campaign.

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 fundswhile 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.

Three decades ago, during the looting of HUD by Reagan Republicans, Manafort escaped his initial brush of scandal without legal consequences. This time, he wasn’t so lucky.

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