Paul Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign following a steady stream of reports about his work for pro-Russian clients highlights the political risks U.S. consultants face from going international.
Manafort remained in his role as chairman following a shakeup earlier this week that saw Pollster Kellyanne Conway elevated to campaign manager and Stephen Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart News, hired to be the CEO of the Trump campaign. That survival extended only two days after the new hires were announced.
The final straw appeared to be undisclosed lobbying work Manafort’s D.C. firm did on behalf of the Party of Regions, a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. He did the work, which according to the AP routed $2.2 million to two other D.C. lobbying firms, Mercury LLC and the Podesta Group Inc., without registering as a foreign agent, as required by federal law.
Thursday’s AP report on Manafort’s lobbying came after the New York Times reported that Manafort received a $12.7 million dollar cash payment for his work for work on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions from 2007-2012. Through his lawyer, Manafort denied receiving “any such cash payments.”
On Friday, Trump released a statement saying that Manafort had resigned from his campaign. “Paul is a true professional and I wish him the greatest success,” Trump said of his former chairman.
His fellow consultants see Manafort differently.
“Paul Manafort is a consultant to dictators and that doesn’t work here. He got what he deserved,” said Jordan Lieberman, politics and public affairs lead at Audience Partners.
Lieberman, the former publisher of Campaigns & Elections, previously worked for Viktor Yushchenko, who defeated Yanukovych during the 2004 presidential election. In September 2004 a month before voting started, Yushchenko said he was poisoned in an assassination attempt he linked to Russia.
In 2009, Lieberman wrote in C&E about Manafort: “He was the only major American consultant to work for Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor [Yanukovych], the ex-convict rumored to be responsible for the near-assassination of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. If Manafort's efforts on behalf of [Yanukovych]’s campaign had been successful, the world would have been a far more dangerous place for America and its allies.
“He's not alone, and both parties are equally culpable. Democrats have picked up more work in Latin America and Republicans in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. This begs the question: If we're banned from exporting knowledge on how to build nukes, should we export our expertise to get America's enemies elected?”
Lieberman has continued to argue that Manafort and other consultants have been exporting sensitive American campaign knowledge to unscrupulous actors overseas. Moreover, the campaign industry and the U.S. government provide no oversight of that practice.
“In the absence of regulations, consultants need to be mindful of international clients,” Lieberman said Friday.