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Dark knight of lobbyists: Who is Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman?

He’s a formidable Republican strategist who spent years lobbying for dictators.

Image: Carolyn Kaster/AP/Press Association Images

PAUL MANAFORT RESIGNED as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman during the week.

He had earlier been thrust into the headlines in connection with a Ukrainian corruption investigation.

On Friday, Trump said in a statement: “This morning Paul Manafort offered, and I accepted, his resignation from the campaign.

“I am very appreciative of his great work in helping us to get where we are today, and in particular his work guiding us through the delegate and convention process.

“Paul is a true professional and I wish him the greatest success.”

Manafort is a formidable Republican strategist who spent years lobbying for rogues and dictators.

The smooth-talking, sharply-dressed 67-year-old had become the public face of the most controversial US presidential campaign in living memory. A professional spokesman who never strayed off message as he batted aside allegations of a campaign in disarray or a candidate going off the rails.

On Wednesday, Trump announced a shake-up of his team as he tanks in the polls. Some people saw the hiring of Breitbart News executive chairman Stephen Bannon as CEO and Kellyanne Conway being promoted to campaign manager as a demotion for Manafort.

In a 40-year career, he has advised the Republican presidential campaigns of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and Bob Dole; he or his firms, such as the now defunct Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, have been paid millions to lobby for or boost the reputations of foreign clients.

“Name a corrupt despot, and [Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly] will name the account: Ferdinand Marcos, $900,000 (€800,000) a year; the now deposed Somalian dictatorship, $450,000 (€400,000); the drug-linked Bahamian government $800,000 (€710,000),” Spy magazine wrote in a 1992 article.

Ukraine 

But the client who landed the Trump campaign in hot water is Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin former president of Ukraine whom Manafort helped rebrand until the leader fell from power during a popular uprising in 2014.

Others were Angolan warlord Jonas Savimbi, whose rebel group got $250 million (about €220 million) under Reagan and Bush in its war against Angola’s socialist government, the Philippines president Marcos and the late Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

His name also appears in connection with a French political scandal known as the Karachi affair, in which arms contracts that France signed with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in 1994 are believed to have resulted in kickbacks to finance the presidential campaign of France’s Edouard Balladur.

In 2013, Manafort admitted being paid by a Lebanese-born intermediary for advising Balladur on his ultimately unsuccessful bid.

trump Donald Trump Source: Gerald Herbert/AP/Press Association Images

Another client was the Kashmiri American Council, named in 2011 by prosecutors as a front organisation for Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency. Yahoo News says the Council paid Manafort’s firm $700,000 (about €620,000) between 1990 and 1995.

Riva Levinson, who worked under Manafort from 1985 to 1995, likened it in her memoir to “playing one big game of Stratego: building armies and scheming to take over the world … In fact, at times, that is exactly what was going on”.

Denies wrongdoing

Originally from Connecticut, Manafort’s father was a Republican mayor in the largely Democrat town of New Britain. His grandfather emigrated from Italy and in 1919 founded what became a successful construction company.

Manafort graduated from Georgetown University with degrees in business administration and law. Besides working on Republican campaigns, he was a founding partner in two lobbying and consulting firms: Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly founded in 1980 and Davis Manafort, both now disbanded.

Manafort defended his client roster in an interview with Fox News in April.

Savimbi, he said, was America’s man and working against a “Soviet dictatorship that was put up in Angola”.

Manafort said in the Philippines he helped a “transition” and in Kiev worked to bring Ukraine into Europe. “And we did,” he told Fox.

Manafort helped Yanukovych fine tune his image by softening his pro-Russia rhetoric, albeit while being accused of creeping authoritarianism and as Ukraine dropped in global ratings for press freedom.

He was credited with persuading Yanukovych to make more effort to win votes in the Ukrainian-speaking west, away from his traditional Russian-leaning heartland, and give speeches in Ukrainian instead of Russian.

Yet his ties with the former Ukrainian president, today exiled in Russia, have come under the microscope as Trump defends Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader and calls for a reset in relations with Moscow.

The head of Ukraine’s newly-formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau, Artem Sytnyk, this week said that more than $12 million (about €10.6 million) was earmarked for payment to Manafort from 2007 to 2012, although it was not clear if he received the money.

Manafort denies any wrongdoing, saying he had “never received a single ‘off-the books cash payment’”, or worked for the governments of Ukraine or Russia.

His position on team Trump marked his return to Republican presidential politics after 20 years — he was reportedly considered but rejected in 2008 by John McCain, allegedly alarmed in part over his Yanukovych ties.

Manafort is married, and reportedly divides his time between Virginia, Florida and New York, where he has an apartment in Trump Tower.

© AFP 2016

Read: Trump adviser denies receiving illegal cash payments from Ukraine

Read: Trump calls for “extreme vetting” of immigrants, looks for “common ground with Russia”

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