Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s top adviser, and his ties to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's political strategist Paul Manafort (L) speaks with former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson as they arrive for a Trump for President reception April 21, 2016. (Getty)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's political strategist Paul Manafort (L) speaks with former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson as they arrive for a Trump for President reception April 21, 2016. (Getty)

Paul Manafort, the adviser hired by Donald Trump to add stability and institutional know-how to Trump’s often scattershot presidential campaign, has long and deep reported ties to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. 

PolitiFact, as part of an exchange of journalists sponsored by the U.S. State Department, is hosting two foreign political journalists, including a reporter from Ukraine. We asked that reporter to analyze Manafort’s connections to Ukraine and its political leadership. What follows is her report.


 

"We joke in Ukraine that it is a bad sign for Trump that he hired Manafort. Because his client Yanukovych was ousted and fled to Russia, to the city of Rostov. So Trump could also end up in Rostov. It is almost like an anecdote." -- Ukrainian political expert Oleg Kravchenko

Manafort’s entry into Ukrainian politics

Rinat Akhmetov

Ukrainian political experts say Manafort, 67, was first hired to work in Ukraine more than a decade ago by the country’s wealthiest businessman, Rinat Akhmetov. Akhmetov, (right), a steel and iron ore magnate, is worth an estimated $2.8 billion, according to Forbes.

Officially, Manafort advised Akhmetov in 2005 on a corporate communication strategy for one of his companies, System Capital Management.

Akhmetov, however, also was a supporter of Viktor Yanukovych, the country’s prime minister, a leader of the Party of Regions and an ally of Vladimir Putin. Yanukovych became president in 2010, but fled under escort to Russia after Ukraine’s 2014 revolution.

Akhmetov told journalists that Manafort was recommended to him by an American law firm. According to information from Mustafa Nayyem, a former Ukrainian journalist and currently a member of parliament, Manafort was a protege of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian businessman with an estimated net worth of $3.5 billion.

Manafort’s work for Viktor Yanukovych

Experts say Manafort was unofficially invited to consult on Yanukovych’s first presidential campaign in December 2004, in the days of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

Yanukovych, (left), was competing with pro-Western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, who was poisoned by dioxin during the campaign.

Once Yanukovych was announced as a winner, massive protests exploded. Eventually the results of the original runoff were invalidated and a re-vote was ordered.

As sources in Yanukovych’s circle claimed, Manafort was asked to "save" Yanukovych’s campaign and improve his image just two weeks before the new vote.

However, the American strategist said it was too late to change the situation. Yanukovych failed.    

Manafort then was hired for the 2006 parliamentary elections campaign to help Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. According to Mustafa Nayyem, Yanukovych and Manafort first met one-to-one in the Czech resort town of Karlovy Vary.

The meeting was arranged by Akhmetov, who wanted Yanukovych to work with an American to repair his image as opposed to Gleb Pavlovsky, a Russian who advised Putin until 2011.

Akhmetov’s camp insisted on a partnership with American consultants. Other parts of Yanukovych’s team preferred the idea of collaborating with the Russians.

Akhmetov won out.

"It was advantageous for the defeated Yanukovych’s team to find a guilty one," Pavlovsky told PolitiFact.

The relationship lasted for years leading up to Yanukovych’s 2010 presidential campaign. Manafort made Yanukovych look more respectable, working with stylists and consultants to redesign his image.

The political consultant had another important mission -- to move Yanukovych closer to Washington. Yanukovych’s team wanted a photo of President Barack Obama with Yanukovych to show that Ukraine’s president was respected in the West.

Yanukovych and Obama in April 2010 in Washington, D.C. (Getty)

"It was a weird thing for the people in Ukraine, because they could not imagine how an American strategist agreed to cooperate with Putin’s friend. It was confusing. But Manafort played a decisive role in the victory of Yanukovych," Ukrainian political expert Oleg Kravchenko told us.

Manafort’s work for Yanukovych and the Party of Regions was kept out of the media as Ukrainian politicians feared of accusations of meddling by the United States. They signed confidentiality agreements to protect the arrangement, and Manafort would not comment on his cooperation with Ukrainian politicians. He refused interviews from Ukrainian journalists, saying he was not a public figure. It’s unclear if Manafort speaks Ukrainian or Russian, but reporters would spot him at the posh InterContinental Kyiv hotel.

The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story, and the phone number listed for Manafort’s lobbying office has been disconnected.

In an April 24, 2016, interview on Fox News Sunday, Manafort described his role in Ukraine as helping align Yanukovych and his administration with Western interests.

"The role that I played in that administration was to help bring Ukraine into Europe, and we did," Manafort said. "We succeeded."  

Manafort worked in Ukraine under the umbrella of his lobbying firm, Davis Manafort & Freeman, Inc. Manafort worked with a group of American political advisers in Ukraine, including expat Philip Griffin, top John McCain adviser Richard H. Davis, and former Ronald Reagan advance man Rick Ahearn.

Manafort at a Donald Trump event on April 27, 2016. (Getty)

"I am not here just for the election," Manafort said in 2007 in Ukraine. "I am trying to play a constructive role in developing a democracy. I am helping to build a political party."

It is unclear how much money Manafort earned while working in Ukraine because campaign payments are not public information. Mustafa Nayyem, the Ukrainian member of parliament, says the American strategist could have made anywhere from $2 million to $20 million during the 2006 parliamentary campaigns alone.

However, according to a 2008 U.S. Justice Department annual report, Manafort’s company received just $63,750 from Yanukovych's Party of Regions over a six-month period ending on March 31, 2008, for consulting services.

Ukrainian political analyst Igor Kushnir said it’s not unique for Manafort to work with a variety of politicians who hold different alliances.

"It is not strange that spin doctors work for the different political camps. For example, Manafort used to advise Ferdinand E. Marcos, the former Philippine dictator. Before that he coordinated Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign. The same story with all spin doctors. It is their job to consult all kind of politicians," Kushnir said.

Klitschko connection

Some Ukrainians believe Manafort remains active in local politics. After Yanukovych fled Ukraine in 2014, Manafort reportedly continued to work with Serhiy Lyovochkin, a former head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine for Yanukovych. He also still cooperates with the remnants of the Party of Regions, now called the Opposition Block, according to some reports.

Others believe Manafort’s role in national elections ended in 2014.

But journalists reported that Manafort advised the 2015 election campaign of Vitali Klitschko, the former professional boxer who was running for mayor of Kiev.

Klitschko wore a new Ukrainian police cap (which resembles an American one) on a presentation of the new police. It was the advice of the American consultant, journalists reported. Klitschko’s press officer denies the arrangement. "Manafort did not work for Klitschko," spokeswoman Oksana Zinovieva said.


Paul John Manafort

Age: 67

Job: Adviser to Donald Trump

Born: New Britain, Conn.

Education: Georgetown University

Political party: Republican

History: An adviser to the presidential campaigns of Republicans Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush and John McCain