Franklin Foer: Paul Manafort, American hustler
And Hunter Biden was hardly the only prominent American who did well for himself during Ukraine’s transition. Another Burisma director was Cofer Black, George W. Bush’s CIA counterterrorism chief. The Republican operative and future Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort worked for Yanukovych. So did Obama White House Counsel Gregory Craig. The millions he was grossing were paid by an oligarch allied with Yanukovich and routed to Craig’s firm, Skadden Arps, through a confusing series of offshore accounts. At the time, Craig was a director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. I was just joining that organization, as the first senior fellow working on international corruption. (His work for Yanukovych was not widely advertised.)
Craig was prosecuted on the narrow count of lying to federal investigators. He was acquitted. To see the grin on his face that day, it was as though he had been absolved not just of criminal misconduct but also of moral wrongdoing.
When prominent Americans leverage their global reputations for financial gain, they attract almost no attention today. How many of us who consider ourselves well versed in U.S. politics and international relations know that alongside her consulting firm, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright started an emerging-markets hedge fund, run by her son-in-law? In 2011, Albright Capital took a voting stake in APR Energy, specializing in pop-up electricity plants for developing countries. APR promotes itself to the mining industry in Africa, where resource extraction enriches a handful of kleptocratic elites and leaves locals mired in pollution and conflict. Some of APR’s business comes via the U.S. Agency for International Development, which works closely with the State Department once led by Albright.
Franklin Foer: The ‘otherwise blameless’ life of Paul Manafort
Scratch into the bios of many former U.S. officials who were in charge of foreign or security policy in administrations of either party, and you will find “consulting” firms and hedge-fund gigs monetizing their names and connections.
Some of these gigs require more ethical compromises than others. When allegations of ethical lapses or wrongdoing surface against people on one side of the aisle, they can always claim that someone on the other side has done far worse. But taken together, all of these examples have contributed to a toxic norm. Joe Biden is the man who, as a senator, walked out of a dinner with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Biden was one of the most vocal champions of anticorruption efforts in the Obama administration. So when this same Biden takes his son with him to China aboard Air Force Two, and within days Hunter joins the board of an investment advisory firm with stakes in China, it does not matter what father and son discussed. Joe Biden has enabled this brand of practice, made it bipartisan orthodoxy. And the ethical standard in these cases—people’s basic understanding of right and wrong—becomes whatever federal law allows. Which is a lot.
Who among us has not admired or supported people who have engaged in or provided cover for this kind of corruption? How did we convince ourselves it was not corruption? Impeachment alone will not end our national calamity. If we want to help our country heal, we must start holding ourselves, our friends, and our allies—and not just our enemies—to its highest standards.