The image of the grim-faced Manafort, led out of a D.C. courtroom by a U.S. marshal, offered a vivid reminder of the precipitous fall of a man who has been counselor to presidents, an architect of the modern-day influence industry and, for a time, a key engineer of Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party.
When he was named Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016, it seemed like a chance for Manafort to make a comeback. Revenue from his main client, Ukraine, had begun to dry up, and Manafort looked to the Trump campaign and presidential politics as a way to revive his fortunes.
But those hopes came crashing down over the past year as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III dug deeper into his past as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. His finances have been squeezed as he faced mounting legal bills and a disappearing client base.
Manafort is one of the most senior people in President Trump’s political orbit to be indicted as part of the Mueller probe.
In Friday morning remarks to reporters, Trump said, “Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign,”adding that he felt “a little badly” that prosecutors were targeting the longtime Republican operative for actions taken more than a decade ago.
“You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time,” Trump said, before ticking off other Republican presidential nominees with whom Manafort has been affiliated. “He worked for Ronald Reagan, he worked for Bob Dole, he worked for John McCain or his firm did. He worked for many other Republicans. He worked for me for what? For 49 days or something? A very short period of time.”
Manafort worked on Trump’s campaign for 144 days, 92 of them as its chairman. He was hired in late March 2016 and resigned in mid-August of that year — a stretch that included the Republican convention where Trump was formally nominated.
Earlier this month, Mueller said Manafort sent a potential witness an encrypted message urging the witness to agree with his story that the lobbying group “worked in Europe” and not in the United States and therefore did not have to register as representatives of a foreign political party, as legally required.
At the time, Manafort was free on a $10 million bond and assigned to stay at his home in Palm Beach, Fla. He has been granted permission to leave home confinement twice: Once to attend his father-in-law’s funeral on Long Island and later to attend a grandson’s baptism in the Washington area.
Friday’s hearing marked a new low for an impeccably dressed, well-spoken man who until recently was a high-flier in the world of Washington lobbying, international consulting and Republican presidential politics.
Manafort’s national political career was launched in 1975, when he was named associate director for personnel for President Gerald Ford. He worked closely with Ford campaign chief James A. Baker, a man he considered an early mentor.
His reputation rose in 1976, when he helped Ford win the Republican nomination during a contested convention. He worked later as a convention adviser to the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan and led convention operations in 1996 for GOP presidential nominee Robert J. Dole.
Manafort parlayed his political relationships into several successful lobbying and consulting firms and into complex financial transactions with billionaire oligarchs and other controversial investors.
His original lobbying firm — Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly — developed a specialty of operating on two tracks: doing political consulting domestically during the election season and seeking clients — including foreign clients — who could benefit from U.S. political connections and media savvy.
He specialized in rehabilitating the reputation of some of the world’s autocratic leaders, including former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos and Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, who was trained by the Chinese in maoist guerrilla tactics.
Under Manafort’s tutelage, Savimbi became known in Washington as a heroic freedom fighter and received support for his battle against the Marxist government of Angola. A Washington Post review of the effort at the time described how Manafort and his colleagues got Savimbi on the agenda of the Reagan White House and before conservative foundations. They encouraged news organizations to cover the African renegade, offering “60 Minutes” an exclusive interview in the African bush. The broadcast was timed to coincide with Savimbi’s carefully choreographed trip to Washington requesting aid from the U.S. government.
Manafort, soft-spoken and dignified, cultivated an air of mystery about his international exploits. He earned the nickname “the Count” — after the Count of Monte Cristo, the fictional character known for adventure and intrigue, and also because of his skill at tallying delegate votes at political conventions.
One of his partners in the firm, Roger Stone, worked with Manafort and would also become an adviser to Trump.
While together, the firm did some lobbying and consulting for Trump on tax and political issues, and both Stone and Manafort participated in conversations with the then-New York real estate entrepreneur.
After the firm split up, Manafort continued his career in domestic and international consulting in partnership with another prominent GOP strategist, Rick Davis.
In 2006, the Manafort-Davis firm began doing business with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who was drawn to the firm’s experience in “international and domestic business, politics, government and public policy development,” according to a legal petition filed on behalf of Deripaska in the Cayman Islands.
Manafort’s relationship with Deripaska has become a topic of interest for federal investigators, who have seen that Manafort, through a Kiev-based aide, was in touch with the Russian oligarch during the campaign.
Just two weeks before Trump accepted the Republican nomination, Manafort offered to provide Deripaska with private briefings.
But Manafort’s work during this era for his major client — Ukraine — seems to have been the primary focus for federal prosecutors.
The money from Ukraine flowed primarily from the Party of Regions, which hired Manafort to improve the image of Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted as Ukraine’s president in 2014 and fled to Moscow.
The offshore funds, the indictment said, were used to pay for Manafort’s “lavish lifestyle,” including rugs, cars, antiques and fancy clothes.
Manafort and his attorney, Kevin Downing, have rebutted the charges of conspiracy, money laundering, failure to register as a foreign agent — and vowed to fight them.
When the indictment was filed against Manafort and his partner, Rick Gates, a former Manafort associate said the news was crushing.
“This indictment is tragic for Paul and his family,” said Manafort’s former business partner Charles Black, who has maintained contact with Manafort even though the two have not worked together for two decades. “I just pray that they are innocent.”