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Paul Manafort: Answers about Trump's indicted former campaign chairman

In this July 17, 2016 file photo, President Donald Trump's Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort is surrounded by reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. [AP photo]
In this July 17, 2016 file photo, President Donald Trump's Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort is surrounded by reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. [AP photo]
Published Oct. 30, 2017

Early Monday morning, news broke that Paul Manafort and his former business partner Rick Gates were turning themselves in to federal authorities to face charges related to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. e_SBlt Here's an overview of why Manafort, in particular, may have been ensnared by Mueller's investigation. Washington Post

Who is Paul Manafort?

Paul Manafort is a longtime political consultant and lobbyist in Washington. He helped multiple Republican presidential nominees manage their efforts at their party conventions, including Gerald Ford in 1976, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 and George H.W. Bush in 1988. He also managed Bob Dole's 1996 presidential bid.

Manafort also worked on behalf of a number of questionable international actors, including Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the Russia-backed president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was ousted in 2014, during the period in which Russia-Ukraine tensions spiked. Much more on this below.

What was his relationship to Trump?

In March 2016, as Donald Trump was trying to ensure his victory in the Republican nomination fight, he hired Manafort to help corral delegates for the upcoming convention. Manafort accepted a position with the Trump campaign for no salary. Manafort's questionable business associations were well known, but at the time, Trump was still having trouble attracting top-tier Republican staffers.

From June to August, when he resigned, Manafort was campaign chairman.

Why did he part ways with Trump?

For this, we need to talk a bit more about Manafort's background.

In 2006, Manafort's company (of which Gates was part) signed a multiyear agreement with a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska apparently based on a 2005 proposal in which Manafort outlined a strategy that would "greatly benefit the Russian president Vladimir Putin Government." Deripaska is closely tied to Putin.

That same year, Manafort began working with Yanukovych's Party of Regions in Ukraine. In 2010, Yanukovych was elected as that country's president. In 2014, he was ousted during a popular uprising in the country largely because of his sympathies for Russia.

A ledger found in a former Party of Regions office in Kiev reported last year indicated that Manafort may have received nearly $13 million in off-the-record payments from the party during his time working with them. Manafort denied the allegation, but the Associated Press later confirmed some of the payments.

At the time, Trump was facing a number of questions about his relationship with Russia and any financial ties to the country. Revelation that his campaign chairman may have been paid by a Russian-backed political party helped spur Trump to oust Manafort from his position.

Does this news prove that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia?

No. It's important to remember that the investigation by Mueller is looking at Russian meddling in the 2016 election as well as any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents. But as an arm of the Justice Department, Mueller's team is also authorized to investigate "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation."

Does this close the door on whether or not Manafort was involved in colluding on the campaign?

The main caveat worth remembering is that Manafort was out of the campaign by August, meaning that he wasn't there for the closing days of Trump's effort. That said, there are two ways in which Manafort and Russian interests overlapped during his time on the campaign.

The first relates to Deripaska, the Putin-allied oligarch. Shortly after Manafort started with the campaign, he emailed a business partner in Ukraine and asked how his new position might be used to "get whole," asking if Deripaska's team was aware of his new position. Later in the campaign, Manafort sought to pass word to Deripaska that a private briefing on the campaign might be possible. It doesn't seem to have happened.

Manafort was also one of the participants in the infamous Trump Tower meeting set up by Donald Trump Jr. and involving a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer who was offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. During that meeting, Trump Jr. described Manafort as being on his phone the whole time, hinting that the content was not interesting to the campaign chairman. Later, though, Manafort turned over notes from the meeting that he'd taken on his phone.

It is possible that the Manafort indictment is meant to serve as leverage in Mueller's broader investigation. There is no mention in the indictment of Trump.

More charges could be filed against Manafort in the future.