Paul Manafort’s global web of business and political dealings has come under increasing scrutiny in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, but that hasn’t stopped the former Trump campaign chairman from working out on the rough and tumble fringes of global politics. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Manafort has been working since the summer with Kurdish leaders in Iraq to help the autonomous region hold a referendum on independence. The United States opposes the non-binding referendum and has lobbied hard to postpone the measure over fears that it would destabilize the already delicate political situation in Iraq, making it harder to snuff out ISIS. The international community agrees and has lined up against the symbolic vote. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is set to vote on the referendum on Monday.
Enter Paul Manafort.
According to the Times’ reporting, Manafort signed on with Iraqi Kurdish leader, Massoud Barzani and his allies “to help administer and promote” the referendum. The referendum is the latest effort of a multifaceted push by Kurdish leaders to build support for their cause in Washington.
Here’s more from the Times:
Mr. Manafort agreed to assist with the referendum, including a planned push for Western recognition, after he was approached several months ago by an intermediary for Mr. Barzani’s son, Masrour Barzani, according to two people familiar with the arrangement. Mr. Manafort has traveled to the region since then to advise the Barzanis’ allies on the referendum, according to Kurdish independence advocates. One of Mr. Manafort’s lieutenants is in Erbil preparing for the referendum, and Mr. Manafort himself may return to the region in the coming days for the vote, according to the advocates…
The Kurdistan Regional Government had paid millions to Washington lobbying firms with deep connections to both Democrats and Republicans, including more than $1.5 million over the last three years, according to Justice Department records. But it has also worked to build support for independence from think tanks and scholars who might be willing to vouch for the referendum’s fairness, and use it to win bipartisan support in Washington for Kurdish independence, according to people familiar with the outreach.
It’s unclear how much Manafort is being paid for his referendum consulting work.