Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman just pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice. More importantly for the White House, Paul Manafort has agreed to cooperate with special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion with Russia. But before Manafort enters a new phase of his criminal career, Mueller filed a new superseding criminal information document in federal court listing new details of the man in the ostrich skin jacket’s infamous political resume.
Here are some of the highlights:
Manafort owes much of his time behind bars to his work on behalf of Russian-backed Ukrainian political interests—work that made him, according to Mueller’s filings, $60 million. It was a reflection not only of Manafort’s greed but the difficulty of selling the Moscow-sponsored regime of Viktor Yanukovich’s Party of Regions to Washington, particularly against Yanukovich adversary and Orange Revolution veteran Yulia Tymoshenko. But one of his tactics, Mueller reveals, was to get what Manafort described “in a contemporaneous communication [as] ‘[O]bama jews’” to pressure the Obama administration in October 2012.
The scheme was to tie Tymoshenko to antisemitism through association. Manafort got “a senior Israeli government official to issue a written statement publicizing this story.” That’s a reference to a statement from then-Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, a hardliner who is now defense minister, as noted by journalist Noga Tarnopolsky. The story was published by Ben Shapiro at Breitbart, as first reported by The Guardian’s Luke Harding. Manafort, “with secret advance knowledge of that Israeli statement,” bragged as he shopped it around the U.S., “I have someone pushing it on the NY Post. Bada bing bada boom.”
Publicly, Manafort’s message was that “the Jewish community will take this out on Obama on election day if he does nothing.” But privately, through a lobbyist envoy to the Obama administration, he conveyed that Ukraine had “worked to prevent the Administration’s presidential opponent from including damaging language in the Israeli statement, so as not to harm the Administration.” Message: You and all your Jews can trust the valiant Viktor Yanukovich.
‘Stink on Tymo’
That story wasn’t an isolated incident. While keeping his Ukraine work “as secret as possible,” Mueller says, Manafort had lobbyists concoct news stories that Tymoshenko had “paid for the murder of a Ukrainian official.” Manafort insisted the stories should have “no fingerprints” and stressed the imperative that “we have no connection” to them—something illegal under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which required him to disclose the lobbying work. “[M]y goal,” he said, “is to plant some stink on Tymo.”
The Hapsburg Empire
Mueller’s previous indictments of Manafort have contained a description of what he called “The Hapsburg Group”—an apparent reference to the Hapsburg dynasty that for a millenium dominated much of Europe—which he retained to lobby Washington and European capitals on behalf of Yanukovich’s Ukraine. But Mueller’s latest document contains new details. The third superseding indictment of Manafort described a key figure within the Hapsburg Group as being a “European Chancellor.” Now, without naming names, Mueller broadened the description to a larger group. The European chancellor was a former Austrian chancellor—who joined with a former Italian prime minister and a Polish president turned European Parliament representative with oversight responsibilities for Ukraine. The Austrian chancellor appears to be Alfred Gusenbauer; the Italian ex-PM to be Romano Prodi; and the Polish politician to be Alexander Kwaśniewski, who headed a Ukraine monitoring mission for the European Parliament. While Mueller doesn’t name them in the text of his superseding information document, the attached exhibits show Manafort memos that refer to Prodi and Kwasniewski.
The goal of this latter-day Hapsburg Empire was to posture as respected neutral voices credibly showing support for Yanukovich, all while being secretly paid by Manafort and his allies to the tune of 2 million Euro.
As The Daily Beast reported before Manafort’s indictment, Manafort paid a powerful U.S. law firm connected to the Obama administration, Skadden Arps, to concoct a report whitewashing Yanukovich’s government for prosecuting its rival Tymoshenko. (Skadden Arps, which put Barack Obama’s former White House counsel Greg Craig on the Ukraine report, has consistently refused The Daily Beast’s inquiries on that matter.) He paid the firm $4.6 million, surreptitiously and mostly through an offshore account, for a 2012 report that the Yanukovich government claimed cost $12,000. (In an earlier lawsuit brought by Tymoshenko, the listed cost was $13,000.) Now Mueller reveals that Skadden Arps told Manafort “privately in writing” in November 2012 that the evidence of Tymoshenko’s criminal activity “is virtually non-existent.” It is unclear who at Skadden Arps provided that written assessment.
Mueller adds: “Manafort knew that the report also did not disclose that the law firm, in addition to being retained to write the report, was retained to represent Ukraine itself, including in connection with the Tymoshenko case and to provide training to the trial team prosecuting Tymoshenko.”
The Hot Dog Stand
Similarly, Mueller’s past indictments have referred to a sham nongovernmental organization based in Brussels called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. The Centre, controlled by the Party of Regions, was a Manafort-concocted cut-out to circumvent the Foreign Agents Registration Act. But now Mueller has information from companies paid through the Centre that show employees knew their money came from Ukraine. One joked to a colleague: “[Y]ou’ve got to see through the nonsense” of the Centre, as “it’s like Alice in Wonderland.” Another called a declaimed connection to the Party of Regions a “fig leaf on a fig leaf” and emailed a reference to the Centre being “the European hot dog stand for a Modern Ukraine.”
In addition to his cooperation with the Mueller probe threatening Donald Trump’s presidency, Manafort will now forfeit his properties in Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Hamptons, and the D.C. suburbs, as well as the tens of millions of dollars stashed in five bank accounts used for illicit activity. There is no confirmed word yet on the final fate of Manafort’s $15,000 ostrich jacket.