MOSCOW—The reports that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had had a contract for tens of millions of dollars to “greatly benefit the Putin Government” were not exactly news here. And, in a certain sense, they didn’t have to be news in Washington, either.
Manafort, who has reportedly just volunteered to testify in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, had been a lobbyist, a notorious one, for decades. His work for less-than-democratic governments, including various African strongmen and the Marcos family of the Philippines, had been well-known in Washington and reported over the last year. It is also not uncommon for lobbyists and political operatives waiting out an administration of the opposite party to work abroad, helping foreign governments of whatever stripe sharpen their political game. Democratic operatives who had worked on the Obama and Clinton campaigns, for example, have done work advising politicians in Britain, Ukraine, and Georgia. Manafort seemed to have fewer moral qualms and filters than others—the only ticket to access his political skills, it seems, was the right amount of money—but it was all part of the swamp the Donald Trump campaign, with Manafort at the helm for about five months, promised to drain.
Nor was this an unusual arrangement for Moscow. The Associated Press reports, and Manafort has denied, that he was advancing Putin’s interests in the U.S. Many foreign governments spend lots of money on lobbyists to get their point of view to the epicenter of the free world—and the world’s largest economy. Russia was no exception, especially as it was getting its economic act together in the middle of the last decade. When the AP says Manafort was representing Putin 10 years ago, Putin was not quite the ubiquitous Bond villain he is today. Even after the arrest of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the international verdict on him was still mixed. He was a strongman, yes, but one who was delivering stability and prosperity not just to Russians but to many Western—American—investors.