Paul Manafort’s name appeared in reports issued by the special counsel and the Senate intelligence committee. A convicted felon pardoned by the 45th president, he is a free man haunted by the past.
His memoir, Political Prisoner, is primarily an exercise in score-settling, pointing an accusatory finger at federal prosecutors and lashing out at enemies. With a pardon from Trump, Manafort is unencumbered by fear from further prosecution.
In a recent interview with Business Insider, he admits he directed the Trump campaign to provide polling data and information to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Soviet-born political consultant with a Russian passport.
On the page, Manafort denies that Kilimnik spied for Russia. In 2021, however, the US imposed sanctions against him, and accused him of being a “known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf”.
As expected, Manafort also sings Donald Trump’s praises, an approach much in common with other forgettable Trump alumni narratives. Manafort saw plenty as Trump’s second campaign manager but he directs the spotlight elsewhere. One measure of which team he’s on comes early: talking about Trump’s racist attacks on Barack Obama, he puts the words “birther allegations” in scare-quotes.
Manafort could have written a much more interesting book. He is a veteran Republican operative with a knack for the delegate selection process. He owned an apartment in Trump Tower and was closely aligned with Viktor Yanukovych, a former prime minister of Ukraine with powerful backing from the Kremlin. That factoid, of course, stood at the heart of Manafort’s problems.
Manafort spent six months on Trump’s winning presidential campaign. In May 2016, he rose to campaign manager. Three months later, Trump sacked him.
In summer 2018, in a case arising from the initial investigation of Russian election interference and links between Trump and Moscow, a federal jury convicted Manafort on a potpourri of conspiracy and tax charges. He reached a plea agreement that would be voided by his alleged lack of candor. Two federal judges sentenced him to a combined 90 months in prison.
His bitterness is understandable. He denies wrongdoing in his links with Ukraine and Russians. Released from prison because of Covid, Manafort was relegated to life in a condominium, wearing an ankle bracelet. Right before Christmas 2020, he received a pardon. In his book he reproduces the document, a token of gratitude and pride.
Political Prisoner glosses over key events. Manafort acknowledges his departure from the campaign but doesn’t mention the arrival of Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway. Instead, he describes a pre-firing breakfast with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.
“We embraced and went our separate ways,” Manafort writes.
Manafort faces the daunting task of fluffing Trump’s ego while placing himself in proximity to the action. He boasts that he emerged as a Sunday talk show surrogate, presenting an inside view of the campaign.
“I would be talking about how [Trump] was going to win and why,” he writes. “He thought that was good idea and told me to do it.”
Things didn’t work out as planned. Trump captured the nomination but Manafort’s gig lasted only a short time longer. There can only be one star in the Trump show. As throughout the book, Manafort omits crucial details. TV did him no favors.
The Devil’s Bargain, a 2017 page-turner by Joshua Green of Bloomberg News, fills in some of the void. Green recalls a profanity-laced verbal beatdown Trump administered to Manafort, right before his dismissal.
Distraught over a New York Times piece that portrayed the campaign as lost at sea, Trump humiliated Manafort in front of senior advisers. It was a tableau, Green writes, straight out of Goodfellas.
Trump tore into Manafort, shouting: “You think you gotta go on TV to talk to me … You treat me like a baby! Am I like a baby to you … Am I a fucking baby, Paul?”
Joe Pesci as commander-in-chief.
These days, the Department of Justice has placed Trump under its microscope again. The FBI executed a search warrant on Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida home. White House lawyers face grand jury subpoenas. Bannon awaits sentencing on a contempt conviction. Alex Jones’ text messages are in the hands of the January 6 committee. Roger Stone, a former Manafort partner and Trump confidant, may be in legal jeopardy.
Trumpworld is a cross between an island of broken toys and Lord of the Flies.
Manafort does drop a few choice nuggets. The Trump campaign was actually being spied on, in the author’s telling, by Michael Cohen. Cohen administered the campaign server, in a bid to maintain relevance. “He had access to everybody’s communications,” Manafort writes. “He had knowledge, and he would be sitting in his office, gaining knowledge by virtue of spying on the campaign.” Cohen denies it.
Ted Cruz comes across badly. In Manafort’s eyes the Texas senator is an ingrate, a liar or both. The categories are porous.
Trump claimed Cruz’s father was complicit the assassination of JFK and implied Cruz’s wife was ugly. According to Manafort, Trump offered Cruz an apology, only to be rebuffed.
“On his own initiative, Trump did apologise for saying some of the things he said about Cruz, which was unusual for Trump,” Manafort observes.
Cruz’s version differs. In September 2016, he said: “Neither [Trump] nor his campaign has ever taken back a word they said about my wife and my family.”
Trump’s campaign nickname for Cruz? “Lyin’ Ted”.
Manafort recalls Trump declaring “This is bullshit” as the senator avoided endorsing the nominee in his speech to the 2016 convention. In the end, though, Cruz slithered back to the fold. Trump reportedly asked Cruz if he would argue his 2020 election challenge before the supreme court. Cruz voted against certifying results.
Manafort predicts Trump will run in 2024, and win. Don’t bet against it. Both Trump and Manafort have been there before.
Political Prisoner: Persecuted, Prosecuted, But Not Silenced is published in the US by Skyhorse Publishing