AP NEWS

Putin’s Poodle

August 23, 2016 GMT

BY ROBERT C. WILLIAMS

Paul Manafort’s resignation as Donald Trump’s campaign manager should not surprise us. Nor should the recent allegations of $12.7 million in cash payments to Manafort’s company that advised pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. Manafort has long been Putin’s poodle in Trump’s ever-changing kennel.

As an old KGB veteran of the Soviet police state, Putin knows all about the tradecraft of espionage, disinformation, and political assassination. He utilized all these skills in arranging the installation of his henchman Viktor Yanukovych as president of Ukraine after the Orange Revolution of 2004. When the U.S.-sanctioned Yanukovych was driven out of office in February 2014, he sought refuge in Rostov on Don in Russia. Putin meanwhile launched another war with “volunteers” in Eastern Ukraine that is still ongoing. Indeed the Russian occupation of the Crimea and other Ukrainian territory seems to have escaped Trump’s notice (except to blame Obama and Hillary for it).

Importantly, Yanukovych’s key adviser and spin doctor was Manafort, an American attorney, lobbyist and wheeler-dealer, also on the payroll of authoritarians like Ferdinand Marcos and Jonas Savimbi, known for their misdeeds in the Phillipines and Angola respectively. Manafort’s rumored links with Russian arms dealers, oligarchs and organized crime proved less important than his friendship with Trump, beginning in the 1980s when Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s and Trump family attorney, Roy Cohn, introduced the two men. Now Manafort has abandoned Trump’s sinking presidential campaign.

Manafort’s grandfather James immigrated from Italy to the U.S. in 1919 and founded the New Britain CT House-Wrecking Company, now Manafort Brothers. In April 2014 the company paid $2.4 million in fines for making false statements about alleged fraud in public works projects in Connecticut. Paul Manafort’s father was once mayor of New Britain and a leader of the Italo-American community.

In the 1980s, Paul Manafort joined Lee Atwater’s DC law firm known as the “torturer’s lobby” for its work on behalf of dictators everywhere. He also stage- managed GOP convention operations for presidential candidates Ford, Reagan, Dole and George H.W. Bush. In addition, Manafort has helped run a “long con” to convert white workers into GOP voters that has reached its climax in the Trump candidacy.

Manafort was little known beyond the Beltway and the GOP. In spring 2016, Manafort became Trump’s campaign manager and chief strategist. He also apparently functioned as Putin’s poodle (and organizational mole) as Trump trash-talked his way to the Republican Party presidential nomination. Now Trump is riling up the Ukrainians with his pro- Russian insults and Republicans with his insane policy comments.

In 2011 former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko sued Manafort and others for laundering money skimmed from natural gas contracts in Ukraine.

The case was dismissed in a New York court in 2015. Manafort and his fellow Yanukovych adviser, Philip Griffin, denied any attempt at the Cleveland GOP convention to make the platform language on Ukraine more pro-Russian.

Putin has a longstanding vendetta against Hillary Clinton for her support of an independent Ukraine and NATO and her 2011 meddling in Russian elections. Clinton once compared Putin to Hitler. Trump calls Putin a “strong leader.” Putin admires Trump, the wannabe strong man, for his convenient criticism of NATO. What better way to elect Trump than to place an American-Ukrainian mole (or poodle) at the heart of the Trump campaign?

Hillary’s State Department emails pale in comparison with a Russian attempt to influence the American elections by an act of cyber war. Do Trump’s tax returns, not yet released, show that he has done business with U.S.-sanctioned Russian oligarchs? With Russian mafia mobsters? Has Trump registered as the agent of a foreign power? Has Manafort? Are they still funded by either Yanukovych or Putin? If the FBI says so, “lock ’em up”?

The Manafort family has a century’s experience wrecking houses. Donald Trump is only the latest Manafort wrecking ball, directed against the GOP itself. If Manafort was Putin’s poodle for Trump, he can now bark but not bite. Maybe the party’s over?

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Robert C. Williams is a retired Russian historian living in Topsham, Maine. He is the author of 15 books, has taught at Bates, Davidson, and Williams Colleges, as well as Washington University in St. Louis, and serves on the board of Mid-Coast Senior College.