After refurbishing the toxic reputations of foreign dictators for decades, remaking Donald Trump for a general election audience will be no problem for political consultant Paul Manafort, Trump’s recent major campaign hire. At least, that is the thesis of a new profile of Manafort by Slate contributor Franklin Foer, which extensively details Manafort’s unseemly history of propping up Angolan guerrilla leaders, Ukrainian oligarchs and Pakistani intelligence interests.
The profile tracks Manafort’s wheeling and dealing from the beginning of his career — working alongside Roger Stone, a self-acclaimed dirty trickster also now in Trump’s orbit — to his more recent wielding of the political influence of Ukrainian natural gas magnates backed by Vladimir Putin. (Manafort, who Foer describes as preferring to fly under the press radar, did not participate in the profile.)
As the profile describes, Manafort’s ties to Trump go way back to 1970s, and in the 1990s his consulting firm helped Trump fend off the threat of Indian casinos to the mogul’s own gambling business.
But Foer’s main focus is Manafort’s work abroad. Here is how Manafort convinced Washington — for the price of $600,000 — to support Jonas Savimbi, a guerrilla leader who fueled Angola’s decades-long civil war, and whose army was known to slaughter innocent civilians:
The money bought Savimbi a revised reputation. Despite his client’s Maoist background, Manafort reinvented him as a freedom fighter. He knew all the tricks for manipulating right-wing opinion. Savimbi was sent to a seminar at the American Enterprise Institute, hosted by the anticommunist stalwart Jeanne Kirkpatrick, a reception thrown by the Heritage Foundation, and another confab at Freedom House. (Kirkpatrick introduced Savimbi, who conscripted soldiers, burned enemies, and indiscriminately laid land mines, as a “linguist, philosopher, poet, politician, warrior … one of the few authentic heroes of our time.”)
Manafort’s campaign worked wonders. His lobbying helped convince Congress to send Savimbi hundreds of millions in covert aid. Indeed, every time Angola stood on the precipice of peace talks, Manafort, Black worked to generate a fresh round of arms—shipments that many experts believe extended the conflict.
The profile also details how Manafort’s clientele nearly tore apart Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign. McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, had partnered with Manafort in their own consulting firm:
“Manafort and Davis didn’t just snooker McCain into trumpeting their client’s cause; they endangered him politically, by arranging a series of meetings with [Russian mogul Oleg] Deripaska, who the U.S. had barred from entering the country because of his ties to organized crime.”
Manafort’s work with Putin-associated oligarchs was extensive, and Foer notes that it’s unlikely to turn off Trump, who has expressed adoration for the Russian leader.
“Over months of tweets and taunts, Donald Trump has terrified most of the Republican establishment, who view him as a brand-shattering electoral debacle in the making,” Foer writes. “But that’s precisely why Paul Manafort has gravitated toward him, and what makes the client such a perfect match for the consultant.”