Paul Manafort is in trouble. The onetime Trump campaign manager and longtime political consultant to the dictatorial set is clearly locked in the sights of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. How bad is it for Manafort? When news of a pre-dawn FBI raid at Manafort’s Virginia home broke this week, President Trump took a moment from his daily media shtick of self-pity laced with self-aggrandizement to comment on the raid and the fortunes of his former adviser.
I thought it was a very, very strong signal, or whatever. I haven’t spoken to him in a long time, but I know him. He was with the campaign for a very short period of time, a relatively short period of time, but I’ve always known him to be a good man. You know, they do that very seldom, so I was surprised to see it. I was very, very surprised to see it… I have not, but to do that early in the morning, whether or not it was appropriate you'd have to ask them. I've always found Paul Manafort to be a very decent man. He's like a lot of other people—probably makes consultant fees from all over the place. Who knows? I don't know, but I thought it was pretty tough stuff to wake him up, perhaps his family was there. I think that's pretty tough stuff.
If there was a hint of pity in Trump’s voice that’s perhaps because beyond the jarring raid, investigators are circling. On Thursday, Bloomberg outlined the many different agencies that are digging through Manafort’s past and the many different ways he appears to be toast. Here's a sampling.
- Mueller’s team, for weeks, has been issuing subpoenas to global banks seeking transaction histories for accounts involving Manafort and his business interests.
- Investigators are trying to use Manafort’s business associates, including his son-in-law and a Ukrainian oligarch, in order to turn up the heat on the former Trump aide in an effort to extract more information out of him.
- “Jeffrey Yohai, who is the estranged husband of Manafort’s daughter, is under investigation by FBI agents working with prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles,” people familiar with their work told Bloomberg. “U.S. authorities are now looking into claims by an investor that Yohai operated a Ponzi scheme.”
- Federal prosecutors in New York have handed over the reins to Mueller’s team on an investigation started earlier this year into money laundering allegations, where Manafort invested in New York real estate to clean up dirty money from Eastern Europe.
- Investigators have been focusing on a Manafort business called CMZ Ventures that received $25 million from Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash to develop a luxury skyscraper on Park Avenue. The project never happened, the money was never invested, and a year later, in 2009, CMZ shut down. Plaintiffs in a civil suit on the matter, “including the former prime minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, alleged the real purpose of the firm was to launder money through the U.S. financial system that Firtash had obtained improperly by skimming sales of natural gas to Ukraine,” according to Bloomberg.
- "The New York authorities are examining an unusual combination of mortgages and loans assembled by Manafort," according to Bloomberg.
The more you look, the more it doesn't look good. Given his shadowy business and political dealings with pro-Russia elements coupled with his proximity to Trump during the campaign, the fact that he’s under investigation is unsurprising. It also seems pretty reasonable to think that during his days on the fringe that Manafort wasn’t always on the right side of American financial laws. Given the scope, Mueller’s team could find widespread criminality in Manafort’s past, but to what end? Whatever financial crimes Manafort may have committed and may or may not get charged with are certainly not the end goal here. Depending on what Manfort was up to and who knew what, at the very least, his financial crimes are leverage to ensure cooperation. They are a means to an end and at the other end is the president.