Politics & Policy

Unfortunately, There’s Nothing Unusual About Manafort’s Ukraine Consulting

Manafort and reporters at the RNC convention in Cleveland, July 14, 2016. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)
Doing business with shady Slavs is routine for K Street bottom feeders of both parties.

Donald Trump’s appeal to flyover-country voters has been that he purportedly understands their frustration and disgust with Washington’s business as usual. K Street lobbyists are the symbol of Washington rot as they push for favors, subsidies, exemptions, and other special treatment for their clients. Their paying customers include, in addition to domestic patrons, foreign governments, crooked oligarchs, fugitive speculators, and other questionable figures. Given the public disgust with such practices, the optics of Trump’s choosing an international business consultant as his campaign manager are certainly bad.

The mainstream media, in its near-hysterical campaign to destroy Trump, has latched onto Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s consulting gig with Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s president until he was deposed during the Euro-Maidan Revolution. As an example, take one of the New York Times’ trademark investigative reports designed to discredit the Trump campaign. Its shrieking headline of a “secret ledger” of cash for Manafort refers to a scratched handwritten legal pad, supposedly listing moneys to be disbursed, on which his name appears. The Times also faults Manafort for consulting for Yanukovich’s “Party of the Regions” (which it admits would have been legal) and for consorting with a shady Russian oligarch, accused of skimming billions in the Ukraine gas trade.

The Times allows that Ukrainian corruption authorities have not determined whether Manafort received any illegal cash and says he is not a target of a separate inquiry on offshore activities. Instead, the Times declares him guilty of the moral crime of working with those “engaged in corruption.” They quote a senior Ukrainian official to make their point: “It would have to be clear to any reasonable person that the Yanukovych clan, when it came to power, was engaged in corruption.” So there is gambling in Casablanca after all! What a discovery.

The Times hit job is hypocritical and lacks any semblance of balance. If working for clients who are “engaged in corruption” is a moral offense, a brief Google search by the Times writers would have assembled an honor roll of corrupt foreign businesses and repressive dictatorships represented by pillars of the Democratic establishment.

“Working for corrupt foreign officials” is big business for K Street firms. Thanks to the Panama Papers, we know that the Podesta Group, with close ties to the Clinton and Obama administrations, lobbied for Russia’s largest bank, a suspected money launderer. Lobbying giant Ketchum represents Gazprom, the Russian energy behemoth that serves as an instrument of Russian foreign policy. Fugitive Ukrainian oligarch Dymtro Firtash is represented by Democratic heavyweight lawyer Lanny Davis, who accuses Trump of “inviting Putin to commit espionage” and denies all wrongdoing by Hillary. Representative John Conyers reads Kremlin propaganda into the Congressional Record, obviously at the suggestion of a Kremlin lobbyist. My regular writings on the Russia–Ukraine War have brought forth threats for defamation by reputable D.C. law firms that represent Russian state officials/oligarchs.

I hesitate to argue moral equivalence. This is one of the Kremlin’s favorite lines of defense. My point is not that the Democratic establishment used its clout to lobby more frequently and in more blatant form for more corrupt individuals and governments than Manafort, although that is likely true. It was the moral posturing of the mainstream media, as represented by the Times, that provoked me into showing the hypocrisy of their argument that Trump is not suited to be president because his campaign manager did consulting work for a corrupt foreign leader. Such an argument would disqualify Hillary Clinton as well, not only because her fellow establishment colleagues worked for corrupt foreign officials, but because of the Clinton Foundation itself.

The brilliance of the mainstream media’s attack on small-fry Manafort is that it diverts attention from the potential granddaddy of corruption schemes. The Clinton Foundation, if there is ever a real investigation, may be shown to have eliminated the K Street middleman. By contributing directly to the Clinton machine, a foreign government or a corrupt foreign oligarch can gain access directly to the heart of government. Just think of the possibilities: Today the State Department, tomorrow the presidency of the United States.

Stalin used the term “diversionary” to describe those enemies who see the truth differently from him. Under the Clinton campaign, “diversion” has become the magician’s “misdirection” to draw the audience’s attention away from the wiggling rabbit in his pocket to a shiny bauble he is waving in the air. Will the voting public fall for this?

After the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014, I asked General Jim Mattis what advice he had for the struggling new Ukrainian state. I expected an answer related to military strategy, but his response surprised me: Tell Ukraine to go to K Street and hire the best lobbyist it can. Otherwise its voice will not be heard. I think this stark advice explains why Americans are fed up, and why they should be.

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