The Manafort trial is actually about Washington
I’m Katherine Miller, political editor of BuzzFeed News, filling in for Elamin.
I know keeping track of the Russia investigation can seem a) exhausting, and b) not conducive to a life of fulfillment. And I definitely understand where Paul Manafort’s trial might seem anticlimactic, even unrelated to Russia.
But the Manafort trial isn’t about Russia!!
It’s a story about the dark heart of American politics, about Washington lobbying and political consulting, about how money knows no party.
What Manafort was doing was actually pretty simple. He worked for Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine, as a political consultant (ads, talking points, speeches, etc.). He also allegedly orchestrated an unregistered lobbying operation — meaning two firms were allegedly paid to advocate on a foreign political party’s behalf in Washington.
To be clear, it’s legal to do political work overseas. It’s legal to lobby on behalf of a foreign client (if you register). But what’s wild about the Manafort episode is the legal part — just how many people were doing Ukrainian business!
Every slice of politics you can think of has a representative in the matter of Ukraine: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, old-school Republicans.
The government’s first witness against Manafort in the trial was Tad Devine, the man behind Sanders’ TV ads in 2016, who worked with Manafort in Ukraine. The two firms involved in the lobbying campaign in Washington? Mercury Affairs, headed by former Republican lawmaker Vin Weber, and what was once known as the Podesta Group, headed by Tony Podesta (brother of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John). Greg Craig — the former White House counsel under President Obama — oversaw work on the Ukrainian president’s behalf through a law firm.
Why, you might ask, were all these people working in Ukraine? Obviously, we can’t know from afar what’s in anyone’s heart. But we do know the way money looms over so much of this trial.
On Tuesday, Manafort’s former deputy Rick Gates, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors, told a jury he was “living beyond [his] means.” In emails made public as part of the trial, Devine once told Gates that his comp rate for a five-day trip to Ukraine would be $10,000 per day. Ten thousand dollars a day!
Tad Devine made ads about income inequality in the United States. Tony Podesta and Greg Craig got into politics in 1968 behind anti-Vietnam War, anti-establishment Eugene McCarthy. Paul Manafort was once part of the Reagan revolution. The lure of money and power can come for each of us, so keep an eye out. And have a good Wednesday.
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