Throughout his presidential campaign Donald Trump has played the angry populist, railing against fat-cat donors, influence peddlers, and Washington establishment insiders who rig the system to the detriment of the American people.
"These people have hundreds of millions of dollars that they've given to these politicians, and these politicians are puppets for them. With me, I'm going to do what's right for the country."Yet when Trump needed a political operative to oversee his campaign's crucial delegate strategy—which could determine whether he wins the nomination at the Republican convention in July—he hired one of the most prominent Washington insiders: Paul Manafort, a veteran Republican lobbyist and consultant who has made millions of dollars working the system on behalf of corporations seeking government favors as well as Third World strongmen and kleptocrats.
Manafort, who was the Dole campaign's convention manager, led the effort to minimize the role at the convention of Patrick Buchanan, who had placed second in the GOP nominating contest. Hunting delegates was a side job for Manafort, who focused on lucrative work as a lobbyist for under-fire corporations and reviled political figures.
In 1985, for example, Manafort and an aide flew to Angola, which was then in the middle of a bloody civil war, to woo Jonas Savimbi, a onetime Maoist and brutal warlord who allegedly relied on blood diamonds to fuel his army. He managed to land a $600,000-a-year contract to represent Savimbi and his UNITA party in Washington, DC, and to try to help Savimbi win US funding.
For $600,000 a year, the firm has represented Angola's thuggish Jonas Savimbi, an alleged witch burner, and his guerilla group UNITA, helping promulgate his "freedom fighter" image and persuading Congress to approve more than $230 million in covert aid to Savimbi's rebel forces.Though Trump has talked tough about confronting Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Manafort has links to the darkest corners of Putin's foreign policy world. In the mid-2000s, Manafort went to work for former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, a Putin ally who was deposed in 2014 following mass protests over his administration's corruption and vote-rigging.
In another chapter of Manafort's long career, he pulled off a feat that epitomizes the kind of inside-the-Beltway cronyism that Trump rails against. In 1986, Manafort was paid more than $326,000 by a developer to lobby a Reagan administration official to approve a $43 million taxpayer-funded grant for a housing project in New Jersey that local officials didn't even want. His role in the deal became the subject of a congressional hearing, where Manfort told members of Congress that he shouldn't be faulted for knowing how to game Washington.
How serious is Trump about his crusade to rid Washington of high-paid, system-rigging influence peddlers? By putting Manafort on his campaign payroll, he has demonstrated he certainly isn't against using these insiders if it benefits his own special interest.