Poor Paul Manafort. Manafort, who tried to extricate himself from the Mueller investigation by filing a civil case alleging prosecutorial overreach, was skewered by federal judge Amy Berman on Wednesday. By the time Manafort showed up in court, his lawyer was furiously back-pedalling about what they were demanding. ‘I don’t really understand,’ Berman said, ‘what is left of your case.’ He suffered more indignities when the Guardian published a lengthy expose by Luke Harding on Thursday about his ‘black ops’ strategy in Ukraine. For Manafort it amounts to revealing the precious trade secrets that he patiently acquired over years of work.
Harding is what is politely called an investigative journalist, which used to be known as a muckraker. And he reminds us that in the case of Manafort, there is plenty of muck to rake. In the March Atlantic, Franklin Foer published a fascinating essay about the rise of Paul Manafort called ‘The Plot Against America.’ Foer noted that ‘having spent so much time in the company of oligarchs, Manafort decided to become one himself.’ His take wasn’t that Washington had corrupted Manafort, but that he had helped connive to further corrupt it.
The truly lucrative line of work that Manafort entered into was prettifying foreign dictatorships. Harding focuses on Manafort’s efforts on behalf of his client Viktor Yanukovych, the former leader of Ukraine who is now holed up somewhere in Russia. Harding asserts that in 2011 Manafort worked with a former Wall Street Journal and Financial Times reporter named Alan Friedman who headed his own company called FBC Media. Friedman, we are told, ‘masterminded’ a project to discredit Yanukovych’s political rival Yulia Tymoshenko. Manafort allegedly set up a think-tank in Vienna to support Yanukovych, planted op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, and embarked upon a social media blitz on his behalf. According to Harding, ‘Manafort’s Ukraine strategy anticipates later efforts by the Kremlin and its troll factory to use Twitter and Facebook to discredit Clinton and to help Trump win the 2016 US election.’
This may well be right. But for all the high dudgeon about Manafort’s nefariousness, I for one can’t wholly suppress a feeling of admiration for his fantastic entrepreneurial abilities. Perhaps Manafort, who favors bespoke shirts and suits from Italy, has improbably viewed himself as a suave David Niven figure—a gallant rogue who plays his self-assigned role in manipulating elections with brio and panache. For several decades, the man has conducted a kind of international master class in political sabotage. There seems to be almost nothing that the man has not thought of, or flinches from, when it comes to the dark arts of undermining an opponent.
And who knows? Maybe the old warrior has not entirely exhausted his bag of tricks. If Donald Trump pardons Manafort for his various transgressions, he might want to think about bringing him back for his reelection campaign in 2020.