The legal trouble facing Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, may not end with the indictment brought by the special counsel last year. BuzzFeed reported Monday that federal officials “have identified more than $40 million in ‘suspicious’ financial transactions” involving Manafort. It’s a good time, then, to bring you the product of the past two weeks of Masthead coverage: The Corruption Issue, which we’ve housed on a special site created exclusively for Masthead readers.
The catalyst for these past couple weeks of coverage was Franklin Foer’s definitive story on Manafort. We worked with Frank and other Atlantic journalists to extend that story, focusing on the world that Manafort helped to bring about. Dive in to find original reporting, analysis, and commentary from our writers and editors.
Here are the essential takeaways from the issue.
Political consultants make money from insider access.
“To be a political consultant is a very intimate thing,” Frank told us, when we asked him to explain how Manafort’s approach to lobbying worked. “When you run a campaign, in order to do that effectively, you need to know all the vulnerabilities of your opponent.” Manafort figured out he could turn right around and sell that intimate understanding back to anyone with a stake in American politics.
But journalists do too, and lobbyists know that.
Because of their campaign connections, Manafort and his partners were able to provide the access to politicians that Washington journalists craved. Newsweek’s former chief political correspondent, Howard Fineman, told The Masthead that savvy journalists understood the game. “Anybody with half a brain who looked at these guys knew that they were important, and was interested in what they were selling.” The key word is selling—the lobbyists knew they could trade their insider status for favorable coverage of their clients.
Favorable press coverage is a valuable commodity to foreign leaders.
Why was Manafort able to assemble a portfolio of authoritarian leaders as his clients? “If you're in one of these countries, odds are you're getting some foreign aid from the United States,” said Frank. “You know you need to have a lobbyist on the ground in Washington to help keep that flowing.” The scale of the payments coming out of Washington completely justified the fees Manafort and his partners charged. As a lobbyist told a reporter back in the 1990s, looking at the value Manafort’s firm generated for one unsavory client by getting the president-elect to send him a letter of support, “Is it worth a million dollars? Of course it is!”
Journalists know this, too, but they don’t always talk about it.
When Manafort joined Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, most Americans didn’t know who he was. But in D.C., his work was largely done out in the open. The Center for Public Integrity wrote a scathing report about his practices in 1992 called “The Torturers’ Lobby.” A television network had planned to air a story about the report, according to CPI’s Charles Lewis, but, upon learning its details, he said, “They killed it on the spot.” Fineman, the former Newsweek correspondent, recalled that the lobbyists’ clients clearly weren’t what they appeared to be. “One look at this guy, and you knew he was a complete fraud,” he said of Jonas Savimbi, an Angolan rebel leader Manafort had been shopping around town. But other journalists covered him anyway.
The worst effects of corruption can happen far out of view.
Manafort sold the Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi as a “freedom fighter” in his country’s civil war. Washington supported Savimbi’s rebel movement in the name of beating back Communism. But that put the U.S. on the same side as apartheid South Africa. And, even more strangely, it put the United States government in opposition to American oil companies, which worked with the Angolan government Savimbi was fighting. An oil executive recalled flying into an airport protected by Cuban soldiers against U.S.-backed rebels. “It was a very strange feeling,” he said.
More Original Reporting
Those are just a few highlights from our reporting, which includes two new exclusive stories:
Today’s Wrap Up
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