If you haven’t had time to read Franklin Foer’s longform investigative profile of Paul Manafort, who is currently under federal indictment, not to worry—we’ve produced today’s issue to help guide you through it.
This is an in-depth and complicated story, with a lot of narrative twists and turns. Manafort has had a fascinating life that tells us a lot about corruption in America. We wanted to unpack that story in a few ways. First, whether you have read the profile or not, we thought it might be useful for you to have this handy companion, featuring highlights from Paul Manafort’s life and a review of a few of the people who have figured prominently in his story.
In addition, as thorough as the story is, it left us with many questions—which you’ll see at the bottom of this email. We will be working through our questions with Frank, and we’ll be back to you with answers and follow-up stories in the next few days. Check out our questions, and feel free to add your own.
A Timeline of the Paul Manafort Story
Here are highlights from Manafort’s life and career, assembled by Masthead fellow Karen Yuan. You can read an extended version of this timeline, with more details, on our website.
1980: Manafort creates Black, Manafort, and Stone, the first lobbying firm to also house political consultants (a “double-breasted operation”).
1985: The Philippines dictatorship becomes a client of Black, Manafort, and Stone, accelerating the firm’s international business.
2002: Manafort and Abdul Rahman Al Assir, an arms dealer, persuade a Portuguese private bank to invest in a failing biometrics firm. Manafort reportedly makes $1.5 million selling shares of the firm before it collapses. The deal plays a role in the bank’s crash.
2005: Manafort proposes Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska finance an effort to aid Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government by influencing politics, business dealings, and media in the United States and Europe.
2010: Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych wins the presidency with Manafort as his chief political strategist.
2015: Oleg Deripaska’s lawyers file a court motion to gain access to more information on a private-equity deal the oligarch financed at Manafort’s request, which they argue in court was never completed. Manafort, apparently suffering an emotional breakdown, enters a psychiatric clinic in Arizona.
2016: During the presidential election, Manafort, after his release from the clinic, returns to Washington and contacts Donald Trump. He officially joins the Trump campaign in March. Manafort is present when a Russian lobbyist meets with Donald Trump Jr. that summer, reportedly to discuss incriminating details on Hillary Clinton.
2017: After an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Manafort is indicted. The allegations include money laundering, making false statements, and failing to register as an agent of a foreign power.
Manafort’s Cast of Characters
Manafort’s universe includes bold-faced names and backroom dealers. Here are a few of the names to know, assembled by Karen. A longer character guide is available on our website.
A partner at Manafort’s firm, Davis, Manafort, and Freedman. Davis managed a referendum campaign that resulted in the independence of Montenegro. While Davis went on leave to manage John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, Manafort set up the private-equity firm Pericles and listed Davis’ name on a deal without his knowledge.
A Russian billionaire. Having worked together before, Manafort persuaded Deripaska to commit $100 million to the investment firm Pericles. When his net worth plummeted after the 2008 financial crisis, Deripaska insisted that Manafort return his money. Deripaska has close ties to Vladimir Putin.
Paul Manafort Sr.
Manafort’s father. Manafort Sr. was the charismatic mayor of New Britain, Connecticut. In 1981, he was charged with perjury for testimony that he had given in a municipal corruption investigation.
An Angolan guerrilla leader. Black, Manafort, and Stone polished Savimbi’s image, depicting him as a “freedom fighter” in the United States, despite his army committing atrocities against children and conscripting women into sexual slavery.
The former president of Ukraine. Yanukovych lost his bid for the presidency during the Orange Revolution in 2004, but Manafort helped Yanukovych’s party succeed two years later in the parliamentary elections. When Yanukovych won the presidency in 2010, he gave Manafort “walk in” privileges that allowed him open entry into the presidential offices. He was ousted in the 2014 Ukrainian revolution.
Our Questions for Frank Foer
Tomorrow, Caroline Kitchener and I are going to spend time with Frank Foer walking through his story. He’ll help us annotate the story and identify some areas where we can do follow-up reporting. We’ve started assembling questions for him in a collaborative Google Doc. We’d love to add more from you. Here are a few of the questions we’re planning to ask him—and check out the Google Doc for more. If you’d like to suggest a question, you can just reply to this email, or add them directly to the Doc.
Is Paul Manafort particularly skilled at working for dictators, or is the American political system amenable to being gamed by outsiders with money? Could he run the same kind of lobbying operation in any other democracy?
What will it take to root out the kind of corruption described in the article? The charges against Manafort have led more lobbyists to register as foreign agents; is that enough to change the system?
“Control over the Young Republicans—a political and social network for professionals ages 18 to 40—was a genuine prize in [the 1970s].” How and why has the group’s influence waned since then? How much political influence does it have now?
The story describes “double-breasted” lobbying operations: “One venture would run campaigns; the other would turn around and lobby the politicians who their colleagues had helped elect.” How explicit are these kinds of firms about that apparent conflict of interest? When candidates choose to use a double-breasted firm to consult on their campaign, do they know that the firm will eventually use them to support its own political interests?
Today’s Wrap Up
Question of the day:
Last month, Atlantic product manager (and friend of the Masthead) Andrew McGill asked our Facebook group a question: Do you have a smart speaker at home, and do you actually use it? Hundreds of Masthead members responded, some with praise for the Amazon Echo, others for the Google Home, and still more who weren't quite ready to welcome an always-listening electronic hockey puck to their living rooms.
Andrew is now figuring out how The Atlantic might bring its journalism to a smart speaker near you. He's looking for beta testers to give feedback on a few prototypes—if you have a speaker of your own and are interested in playing guinea pig, sign up here.
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