When Paul Manafort first joined the Trump campaign, many of his close friends could envision this day as it would unfold, more than two years later.
They told me months ago that they could long foresee the chain of events: how taking a job with the Trump campaign would bring media attention to Manafort’s sordid past as a consultant in Ukraine, how scrutiny of his career would inevitably pique the interest of the feds, how an investigation into his financial dealings would end badly for him. And end badly for him it did—a guilty verdict on eight counts of tax and bank fraud, and years in prison awaiting him.
It all raises a question, and it is the question that gets asked about Manafort more than any other: Why didn’t he cut a deal with the government? Why did Manafort place himself in a position almost guaranteed to maximize his pain and suffering?
As a political consultant, Paul Manafort crafted narratives for his clients. He would take, say, a Ukrainian gangster and manage to depict him as a pillar of stability; he would portray an African dictator as an avatar of liberty. In his own life, Manafort showed a similar ability for bending reality to suit his own preferences and interests, for inhabiting a narrative of his own creation. He accumulated expensively tailored suits and properties, even as his finances deteriorated. According to text messages sent by his daughter, he apparently persisted in an extramarital affair, even after his family caught him in the act and he agreed to sever ties with his mistress. His political career and personal life were of a piece. In both realms, he consistently operated with impunity. As his former colleague Riva Levinson wrote in a column for The Hill this week, “Manafort ‘was the master of his own universe,’ meaning he did what he wanted, when he wanted. I don't think he ever believed the rules applied to him.”