DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. Terry has to be out of town today, but before she left, she recorded the interview we're about to hear with journalist Franklin Foer, who's written a new investigative profile of Paul Manafort just published in The Atlantic. Manafort served as President Trump's campaign chairman, and last October became one of four people indicted in Robert Mueller's investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Manafort first made his name in the '80s as a political consultant and lobbyist. Foer says Manafort transformed lobbying by obliterating traditional concerns about conflicts of interest. His clients eventually included authoritarian presidents, militia commanders and Russian oligarchs. He made a fortune, stashed his money in offshore tax havens then ended up deep in debt to one of the Russian oligarchs. His personal financial crisis led him to join the Trump campaign. Foer's article is titled, "American Hustler: Oligarchs, Shady Deals, Foreign Money - How Paul Manafort Helped Corrupt Washington And Laid The Groundwork For The Subversion Of American Politics" (ph).
TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: Franklin Foer, welcome to FRESH AIR. So your story starts in 2015, before Paul Manafort joins the Trump campaign. And at this point, Manafort is in a clinic recovering from an emotional breakdown. He appears to have considered suicide. What led to this breakdown?
FRANKLIN FOER: Professionally, Paul Manafort's life was a mess. He'd been a very powerful political consultant and lobbyist, but he'd bet everything in his career on his work in Ukraine. He'd become the chief political adviser to Viktor Yanukovych, who had been president of Ukraine, and they developed a very personal relationship and they developed a very lucrative relationship for Paul Manafort. But after spending nearly 10 years in Ukraine, revolution had swept that government for power, and Manafort was deprived of his primary source of income and he was struggling to find anything to replace that.
Financially, Paul Manafort was struggling. He owed a Russian oligarch nearly $20 million, and that Russian oligarch wasn't going to let go of that debt. And then finally, personally, Paul Manafort was struggling. He'd had an affair which his family had uncovered. And despite telling him to go into therapy and to break off that affair, the affair continued and he was caught a second time. And he had what his daughter described as a fairly massive emotional breakdown.
GROSS: And you mentioned that affair. That was costing him a fortune, too, 'cause he was paying for his mistress's very expensive Manhattan apartment or home plus a home in the Hamptons. So that was a lot of money right there.
FOER: It was. He'd given her an American Express card which she used freely, and she posted about all the expensive restaurants that they ate at and all the fancy places that they'd traveled on her Instagram account. So Manafort's family was able to follow in fairly Technicolor detail the wonderings of this affair.
GROSS: Some of the information you got for this part of your article came from texts to and from one of Manafort's daughters and a hacktivist group - that's hackers who are also activists and who hack for some kind of larger political or social motive. Hacktivists had hacked her phone and gotten access to her texts. What are some of the other things you've learned from those hacked texts?
FOER: Well, so the texts, there are 6 million words of text, and they span nearly four years. And so when you're writing a profile of a man or woman, to have this kind of intimate recording of everyday family life is hugely helpful in terms of amassing a psychological portrait of a guy 'cause you can see not just how they behave as their public self. You can get a sense of their private self, as well. And so you could see him going back and forth with his daughters over all sorts of things. One of the things that you see is the way in which his finances were deteriorating. So his daughter was preparing for a wedding, and suddenly Manafort started to get extremely cheap, and they started to complain about the tightened cash flow that he was that he was experiencing.
And so when it came to preparing for a dinner before her wedding, he started to micromanage things in an extreme sort of way. He cut the line item for ice, started to insist that they served hot dogs on paper plates, which was pretty uncharacteristic for Manafort, who really enjoyed spending money. He amassed multiple pieces of property at any given moment. He would buy property without even seeing it. He, as we can tell from the Mueller indictment of him, this was a guy who spent million dollars on finely tailored suits in Beverly Hills, and on antique rugs and on fancy cars. Yet here he was, you know, mere months before joining up with the Trump campaign, really struggling to cover some basic expenses.
GROSS: So did you have any ethical questions about using these hacked texts to and from Manafort and his daughter?
FOER: Yeah. Of course I did. I think I really dislike the way in which private information is weaponized and then turned into public. And I had a lot of qualms. And there was a lot of information that was contained within these text messages that I decided not to use because it felt too intrusive. It felt like it would punish people who had done nothing wrong, who didn't deserve to be held up to public scrutiny. And I wrestled a lot with whether I should use these messages. But as a journalist, you're, you know - I wish there was a world in which we didn't have these kind of hacks in which these private correspondence wasn't made public, but if the information exists, and it benefits me as a journalist and there's public purpose to revealing the private information, I think it's important to press forward.
GROSS: OK. So Manafort has this emotional breakdown in part 'cause he's so deep in debt, and he's used to having a lot of money and now he owes money. He's struggling. And so he sees an opportunity in the Trump campaign once he gets out of the clinic that he's in for his emotional breakdown, and he offers his services to the Trump campaign for free. So...
FOER: (Laughter) Right.
GROSS: What sense does that make? He needs money so badly. Why is he offering his services with no charge?
FOER: Right. It's very uncharacteristic for Manafort to offer his services free of charge. Over the course of his career, he had mastered the art of charging exorbitant sums to his clients and finding ways to wangle those large sums of money out of them. But here he was in this state of pretty utter despair and desperation looking for a way to make himself relevant again, looking for a way to recover his sense of self, his sense of esteem, to salve his bruised ego, to repair his relations with his family. And Trump offered a fairly ideal opportunity because the Trump campaign, as you'll remember, was completely shambolic. It was improvisational.
When Manafort ended up joining up with them, it looked like they were going to be involved in an intense fight at the convention with the Never Trump movement who would do everything to stop them. And Manafort, over the course of his political career, had developed expertise in running conventions, expertise in nose counts and in amassing delegates. And so he was uniquely needed at this moment.
And so in some ways, it didn't make any sense at all for him to join up with the Trump campaign. And in fact, he went and he called a lot of his old friends in Washington and told them that he was about to join with the Trump campaign, and they really couldn't believe that he was about to take this step because it would open him up and open up his career to all sorts of scrutiny and exposure that they knew he wouldn't be able to withstand.
GROSS: And another thing he brought to the Trump campaign was a deep understanding of identity politics and identity resentments 'cause he'd used those tactics in Ukraine, and I guess he used them in the Trump campaign, as well.
FOER: Right. So in Ukraine, he'd helped exacerbate a division between Russian speakers in the eastern part of the country and Ukrainian speakers in the western part of the country. And he'd played on this long-standing sense of victimization that the Russian speakers felt. And he just went where the polls showed him to go, which was to try to find ways to drive a wedge between those two different groups. And, in fact, that's something that he was trained in the United States because he'd come up through the Reagan campaign in 1980 and, in fact, had in the general election - in the 1980 Ronald Reagan campaign, had run the Southern part of the campaign.
And if you remember, the Reagan campaign had begun in Philadelphia, Miss., the site where civil rights workers had been slain, with a fairly naked appeal to states' rights. And so there was racial coding kind of embedded in that. So that was the type of cultural politics, of division, of dog whistling that he'd been training in since he was a kid.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Franklin Foer, a national correspondent for The Atlantic. His new article is an investigative profile of Paul Manafort titled "American Hustler." We'll be right back after this break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF AVISHAI COHEN'S "GBEDE TEMIN")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Franklin Foer, a national correspondent for The Atlantic. We're talking about his new article about Paul Manafort. It's called "American Hustler: Oligarchs, Shady Deals, Foreign Money - How Paul Manafort Helped Corrupt Washington And Laid The Groundwork For The Subversion Of American Politics." Manafort was ousted from the Trump campaign after The New York Times reported that Manafort's name was listed in a secret ledger of cash in Ukraine. So he was out of the campaign after not long.
Trump campaigned on drain the swamp. You credit Manafort with having actually created the swamp as we know it by rewriting the rules of lobbying, by creating a consulting firm that ignored the conventions that had previously governed lobbying, by being uninhibited by moral limits or conflicts of interest. He came into lobbying with a lot of political contacts after working in Reagan's first victorious presidential campaign. So what did he do to parlay his political connections into lobbying?
FOER: So Paul Manafort was born as a political operative. He was the son of a mayor of New Britain, Conn. He'd grown up in the Young Republican organization and in the Reagan campaign in 1980. And when he opened up shop in Washington, he did so as a...
GROSS: And what year was it?
FOER: In 1981.
FOER: So in 1980, 1981, he set up shop as a political consultant. He was going to run campaigns because that's what he knew how to do. But kind of serendipitously, his firm started to receive calls from businesses that wanted help lobbying. And he had this great insight that he could create a firm that both ran campaigns and lobbied. And so it emerged as the first of what they called a double-breasted operation.
So it was a firm that would get candidates elected. And then once they were elected, the firm would turn around and use those elected officials to help advance the cause of their corporate clients. And so that was the first of a series of innovations that Manafort came up with that really started to rewrite the rules of Washington.
If we flash back to 1980, it's hard to imagine just how limited lobbying was in this city - that the great lobbyists of the '60s and '70s - people like Clark Clifford or Bryce Harlow or Tommy "the Cork" Corcoran - these were men who were regarded as representatives of the permanent establishment. They were known as elegant fixers. They were people that you could turn to to get a problem solved. And lobbying itself was just relatively limited in scale. Tommy Boggs, the famous Washington lawyer, went to register as a lobbyist in the late 1960s. And he was entered into the ledger on Capitol Hill as number - I think No. 67 on the list.
You know, flash forward however many years later to the 1990s after the Reagan revolution, after this revolution that Manafort helped ignite within the field. You have tens of thousands of lobbyists in the place. And so, you know, this was a transition, a transformation that had many architects. But Manafort was there as the vanguard, as the guy who really didn't care about whatever the norms or rules were. And he really didn't want to get accepted by the establishment. So he was willing to keep pushing things. And when he'd push things, he would show that they were highly lucrative, and the rest of the city would soon follow.
GROSS: So is this officially a conflict of interest if you're representing in your firm both politicians and corporations? Because, I mean, the way you're describing it, you help get the politician elected. They pay you a lot of money in return. And then you have lobbyists who need the help of the politician who's passing the lobbyist legislation. You're getting paid on both ends.
FOER: Yeah, of course. It is a conflict of interest. And the conflict of interests kind of abounded in the Manafort operation. So not only were they doing what you described, but they were also - in their political consulting firm, they became bipartisan in 1984. And so they started to hire Democratic operatives and Republican operatives. And you'd have Senate races where you'd have one representative from Manafort's firm representing the Republican candidate, and then you'd have another representing the Democratic candidate.
And in 1988, Manafort's firm had - was bestrode the Republican Party to such an extent that one of his partners was the chief adviser to Bob Dole. Another was the chief adviser to Jack Kemp. Another was the chief adviser to George H.W. Bush. And an adviser quipped to Time magazine that year, you know, why don't we just take the Republican primary and shift it to Paul Manafort's office, and we can have them argue it out there?
GROSS: They must've been pretty good at what they did if candidates signed up to be represented by this firm in spite of the conflicts.
FOER: They were extremely good. And the partners in this firm included the most legendary Republican consultants of their era. There was Lee Atwater, who became famous for the Willie Horton ads in the George H.W. Bush 1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis, which were, in some ways, the most grotesque use of racial demagoguery in a modern American political campaign.
There was a lobbyist called Charlie Black who continues to work in Republican politics. He worked in the John McCain campaigns. He advised John Kasich in the last presidential primary. He's one of the great lobbyists in Washington, D.C. And then, of course, there was Roger Stone, who was the consultant who was most close to Paul Manafort. They'd grown up together in College Republicans and Young Republicans. And Roger Stone is one of the great pioneers in opposition research, one of the great strategic minds of his generation and also somebody who is self-consciously a dirty trickster.
He trained in the Richard Nixon re-election campaign and even tattooed Richard Nixon's face on his back. And he - when he got caught doing dirty tricks for that campaign, he basically proudly admitted them. And, in fact, when Richard Nixon would return to town - return to Washington - drivers from the Manafort-Stone firm would shepherd Nixon around town.
GROSS: So during the Reagan administration, Manafort's lobbying firm starts taking on foreign clients. And this is in the era when the Reagan administration is fighting against communism and funding and training guerrilla armies and, like, the Contras in Nicaragua, the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan. They're funding strongmen in various countries to, you know, stand against the communists. How did Manafort's lobbying firm try to cash in on that?
FOER: Well, these guerrilla forces, these regimes had a political problem. And the Reagan administration had a political problem, which is they had ideological reasons for getting money to these proxy forces, these proxy governments. But oftentimes, the recipients of these funds weren't terribly attractive figures. They were oppressive dictatorships. They were guerrilla armies that kept sex slaves, as in the case of the Angolan rebels that we supported.
And so they needed political operatives who could help them improve their images in Washington, help them improve their images back home so that they wouldn't have opposition that would call attention to the terrible things that they did. And they needed lobbyists who could work the halls of Congress to get them more money. And so the first big client - the first big foreign client that they got was Ferdinand Marcos, who was the kind of president for life in the Philippines who had assassinated his main opposition - source of opposition - Benigno Aquino, in 1983. And the Reagan administration pretty directly helped bring Manafort and his firm into to try to bolster Marcos' image.
DAVIES: Franklin Foer, national correspondent for The Atlantic, speaking to Terry Gross. His investigative profile of Paul Manafort appears online in The Atlantic. Coming up, how Paul Manafort ended up deep in debt to a Russian oligarch and how a personal financial crisis led him to join the Trump campaign. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF RAY ANDERSON'S "BLUES BRED IN THE BONE")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross, who's away today. We're listening to Terry's interview with Franklin Foer, national correspondent for The Atlantic, about his new investigative profile of Paul Manafort, the former political consultant, lobbyist and Trump campaign chairman who's been indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The article, which is now online, is called "American Hustler: Oligarchs, Shady Deals, Foreign Money - How Paul Manafort Helped Corrupt Washington And Laid The Groundwork For The Subversion Of American Politics." When he and Terry left off, Foer was explaining that, as a lobbyist, Manafort's clients included authoritarian leaders around the world who were accused of human rights abuses and needed their images burnished.
GROSS: So you said that the Manafort firm - the lobbying firm - took on as clients dictatorial governments in Nigeria, Kenya, Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. In 1992, the Center for Public Integrity called this firm the torturers' lobby. So how did Manafort try to remake the image of dictators and militia leaders? I mean, you say one of the biggest examples is the makeover of the Angola guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi. What had Savimbi done, and how did Manafort's firm remake his image?
FOER: So Savimbi, in a lot of ways, was an unlikely champion for the West in the Cold War. He had trained as a Maoist with the Chinese, and he seemed a pretty devoted Marxist. But in the crazy contours of that civil war, he ended up flipping his allegiances. And he needed help getting portrayed as a champion of freedom. And so what Manafort did was - his firm arranged for some high-profile visits that Jonas Savimbi, the leader of this rebel army, made to Washington and New York.
And they put him up in the fanciest hotels. And this guy, who was accused of overseeing sex slavery, mass killings of women and children, was suddenly presented as a refined character. They would train him in his talking points. They gave him briefings about the political weather in Washington. And he came, and he put on a good show in Washington in meetings with the president.
And more than that, they cultivated a lot of their old relationships with the conservative movement. And suddenly this guy who had no bona fides as a Marxist or a Democrat or a believer in libertarian values was suddenly presented as such. And so he would show up, say, at the American Enterprise Institute, the flagship neo-conservative think tank in Washington D.C. And he had Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former ambassador to the U.N., extolling him as kind of a latter-day Thomas Jefferson, which was laughable.
But it worked. And it worked to such a large extent that Manafort and his firm kept pushing the arms to come to Angola even as there was an excellent chance for the regime there to broker some sort of cease-fire in the civil war. And so there are critics, like former Senator - New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, who accuse Manafort in his firm of extending this incredibly brutal civil war way past the point it should have been settled and causing hundreds of thousands of Angolans to die in the process.
GROSS: So in 1995, Manafort starts a new firm. And one of his associates in this new firm is Rick Gates, who was indicted along with Manafort by Mueller - indicted on charges of money laundering and other charges. So in this new firm, some of their most lucrative clients were Russian oligarchs. Why did the firm start taking on Russian oligarchs as their clients?
FOER: Well, quite simply, that's where the money was. So after the fall of the Soviet Union, you had incredible fortunes that had been amassed in this kind of smash-and-grab privatization, where the assets of the state were suddenly grabbed by these apparatchiks who used political connections to become gazillionaires virtually overnight. And Manafort's firm kind of stumbled into this opportunity. And they could see that this new source of wealth was also a new potentially incredibly lucrative source of business.
GROSS: So one of their clients, Oleg Deripaska, is somebody whose name keeps coming up in discussions about communications between the Trump campaign and Russia. So tell us who Oleg Deripaska is.
FOER: So Oleg Deripaska was an engineer who became extremely wealthy by prevailing in the so-called aluminum wars of the 1990s. This was the struggle to control the former Soviet aluminum industry, which was the most brutal of all the struggles for privatization of a former Soviet industry. And it was one in which there was this trail of corpses - of murdered accountants, of murder gangsters, of murdered owners of smelters. And Deripaska ended up prevailing in this aluminum war.
This was a man who carried a reputation for being connected to organized crime. That's the reason why the United States denied him a visa to travel here starting in 2005. And he hired Manafort because he wanted to use Manafort's political skills to help him advance his political interests within the region. And so for instance, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic, had an aluminum industry that he wanted to control. So he hired Manafort's firm in order to orchestrate Montenegro's independence campaign in 2006, which it successfully did.
GROSS: So how did Paul Manafort end up working in Ukraine and representing Viktor Yanukovych, who was elected in what a lot of people considered to be a rigged election?
FOER: So Yanukovych was deposed in the Orange Revolution. He'd won a rigged election. And if you remember, this was an election where he was accused of poisoning his main opponent. And so you had all of these Ukrainians taking to the street, complaining about the unfairness of these results. And he was deposed. And Deripaska sees what's happening. He's worried. He dispatches Manafort to Kiev to try to figure things out. And Manafort ends up insinuating himself with the corrupt elites who backed Viktor Yanukovych.
And Yanukovych at this stage gets sent into self-imposed exile in the Czech Republic for a brief time. And he comes back to the country, and he's basically toxic. He's a radioactive figure who's got no political base. He's worried about his supporters getting arrested by the new democratic government. And he's looking to try to figure out some sort of way to rehabilitate his political career. And so he turns to Manafort. And all the elites who are backing him turn to Manafort.
And they say is there any way that you can revive this kind of corpse of a political career. And Manafort ends up taking on this task. And it's a really attractive situation for Manafort because you have a bunch of oligarchs who have compiled these massive fortunes who are willing to spend exorbitant sums in order to try to protect their fortunes. And so Manafort ends up taking on this case. And what would have been maybe a passing fancy for him becomes something like the overriding obsession of his career.
GROSS: And he made a fortune representing Yanukovych. And you say he built his clients in Ukraine outrageous sums. So Manafort's making all this money through the oligarchs, through Ukraine. At what point, do things go really bad for him?
FOER: So in 2014, there's another revolution in Ukraine. So his long-standing client Viktor Yanukovych gets elected president in 2010, and he takes a real authoritarian turn. And in 2014, there's a revolution, in Yanukovych responds to the revolution by essentially firing bullets into the crowd and fighting a bit of a war with the demonstrators there. There are 100 people who end up dying in the streets, and Yanukovych ends up having to flee for his life, taking exile in Moscow.
Now, Manafort's a much lower-profile figure. He doesn't need to run for his life. And he manages to reconnect with some of the old minions of Viktor Yanukovych who are trying to find a way to continue their political party in new form. But his new clients don't really want to pay for him. And so the extent of Manafort's relationship with Yanukovych and his investment in Ukraine was highly personal. He would go swimming naked with Yanukovych in his banya. He would play tennis with the guy.
And after having observed that behavior of all of these Ukrainian oligarchs, in some ways, he tried to become one himself. And so he brought Rick Gates over to Kiev, and he tried to set up his own private equity fund in Ukraine where he would take - he would do - just, like, all the Ukrainian oligarchs he observed, he would try to buy small firms that had been privatized, and he would try to smoosh them together into major national powerhouses.
And in a way, Manafort began to overestimate his own powers because Manafort wasn't trained to be a businessman, even though he had pretty great instincts about how to build a business in Washington. But he was doing business now in a country where there was no rule of law, there were no ethics, where you could spend millions of dollars buying a business, and it could turn out to be sand.
GROSS: My guess is Franklin Foer, a national correspondent for The Atlantic. His new article in The Atlantic about Paul Manafort is called "American Hustler." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Franklin Foer, a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He's written a new investigative profile about Paul Manafort called "American Hustler: Oligarchs, Shady Deals, Foreign Money - How Paul Manafort Helped Corrupt Washington And Laid The Groundwork For The Subversion Of American Politics."
So Manafort starts this private equity firm, tries to buy up small companies and build them into larger ones. One of his investors is the aforementioned oligarch Oleg Deripaska. But this helps lead to Manafort's downfall because - because why? Like, why did he start losing so much money?
FOER: So he starts this firm Pericles, where Oleg Deripaska becomes his primary investor, and he promises that he's going to invest $200 million with Paul Manafort in order to buy up properties around the world. And so Manafort says that the first property they're going to buy is some telecommunications holding company in Odessa. And Deripaska says, great, and he pays him $18.9 million and pays him a $7 million management fee to oversee the investment. And Deripaska, at this moment - so this is 2007 - is one of the richest men in the world. He's worth $28 billion. And so this investment is actually relatively trivial for him.
But within the year, there's the financial crisis, and the financial crisis slams Deripaska. He needs to go begging to Putin for a bailout. And so every million dollars that he's invested suddenly becomes much more important to him, and so he goes to Paul Manafort, and he says, you know what? I gave you this money to invest in this Ukrainian telecom, but I need it now, and I want it back. And Manafort says, OK, OK, you can have it back. I just need to sell the company. And he promises to sell the company. And the years go by, and Manafort says that he can't really do it and promises an audit, but the audit never comes. And then at a certain point, he stops responding to all of Deripaska's attempts to contact him.
And there's a court filing from 2014, which - so we're now many, many years after the initial purchase of this telecommunications company, and Deripaska still wants his money back. And he - his lawyers tell the court that Paul Manafort has simply disappeared. And so Deripaska starts to dig even deeper, and as he begins to dig, his lawyers begin to reflect his feelings, and they end up telling the court that they're not even sure that Manafort bought the company that he promised to buy in the first place. And all of this is simply incredible, given Deripaska's history, given that Deripaska is not the type of guy who overlooks any sort of debt. And it's really incredible that Manafort would have dealt with him in the way that he did given all that.
GROSS: So this kind of brings us to where we started - with Manafort in a lot of debt. He owes Deripaska a lot of money. Deripaska really wants the money. So Manafort joins the Trump campaign, hoping to kind of rebuild a client base and make money. While he serves as Trump's campaign manager, he writes an email that if Deripaska needs private briefings, we can accommodate. What is that email about?
FOER: So after Manafort joins up with the Trump campaign, he almost immediately starts to send all the press coverage of himself through an intermediary to Oleg Deripaska. And he tells the intermediary that he wants to, quote, unquote, "be made whole" with Deripaska. And so it seems like what he is saying to Deripaska is, I want to help you get close to this campaign if that's what you want and if that helps restore me to your good graces.
Let me just say that there's really - there's no evidence that Deripaska took him up on this offer or that Deripaska received those emails. But what it reflects is Manafort's own sense of desperation at this moment. And it also reflects the ways in which he didn't see his involvement with the Trump campaign as a selfless act to try to help this candidate get elected. He always was looking at his own self-interest. He was always looking at his own debts. And he was always looking at ways to leverage his connections with the campaign to better himself.
GROSS: What do you know about how much Donald Trump knew about Manafort when Trump hired Manafort to be his campaign manager?
FOER: There's a long history that Manafort has with Trump, but it's not a close or tight history. Manafort's firm had done some work for Donald Trump because his partner Roger Stone had a close, personal relationship with Donald Trump that extended back decades. Manafort had a pied-a-terre in Trump Tower, so he would occasionally run into Trump and make small talk with him.
But it's not clear that Trump had a dossier on Manafort's background. I think that he liked that Manafort fit the part, that Manafort is a guy who many people compare in demeanor to a network news anchor and that he exudes authority. He looks the part of a campaign chair. And he did have this top-drawer history of working on Republican conventions going back to Gerald Ford. And so if you're Donald Trump and you're craving some whiff of establishment respectability, some whiff of conventional campaign acumen and expertise, well, Manafort was just right for that.
GROSS: So let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Franklin Foer. He's a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has a new investigative profile of Paul Manafort. It's called "American Hustler." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALFREDO RODRIGUEZ'S "VEINTE ANOS (TWENTY YEARS)"
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Franklin Foer, a national correspondent for The Atlantic. And his new piece, an investigative profile of Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign manager, is called "American Hustler: Oligarchs, Shady Deals, Foreign Money - How Paul Manafort Helped Corrupt Washington And Laid The Groundwork For The Subversion Of American Politics."
So, you know, we had spoken about how Paul Manafort became so rich by representing American politicians, American corporations as a lobbyist and then representing foreign dictators, and authoritarian rulers, and militia leaders, and then Russian oligarchs and then the Ukrainian authoritarian president. And so how did he end up so deep in debt? Because by the time he became Trump's campaign manager, he owed millions.
FOER: So Paul Manafort was a conspicuous consumer. He bought first, second, third, fourth homes. He liked the finer things in life. He was supporting, as we said earlier, a mistress. On top of that, he was financing his expensive life through money that was parked in Cyprus and in the Grenadines and in tax havens because the money was essentially dirty money that he didn't want to pay taxes on. He hadn't registered with the federal government as an agent for the Ukrainians.
And the source of his money was coming from Ukrainian oligarchs who couldn't really trace the source of their own money through - in legitimate sorts of ways. So the money would flow to him to these tax havens, and it would sit there. And he would bring it back to the United States through loopholes in the law. So he would be able to move that money back in the United States in order to buy suits or to buy rugs when he was able to find dealers who would be cooperative with him.
But in 2014, after the revolution in Ukraine, the FBI started to scrutinize money that was coming in through Ukrainian oligarchs, and it started to scrutinize Paul Manafort's own money. And he was interviewed by the FBI in the summer of 2014. Now, I don't think it's a coincidence that right after that interview, he stopped transferring money from Cyprus back to the United States because he was worried about accessing that money and worried about what it might mean for him in terms of legal jeopardy. And so his finances, which once came through this incredibly intricate system that he built up, were suddenly imperiled. He couldn't access all that money that he had abroad.
GROSS: So you started writing about Paul Manafort in April of 2016. This is before Manafort becomes Donald Trump's campaign manager. Why did you start writing about him?
FOER: So I have a familial history with Ukraine. I'd been there a couple times. My grandmother was born in Ukraine. And I'd gone back with my mother in 2010 to try to find the family that had saved my grandfather during the war. And so I started to take a personal interest in the country, and when I was editor of the New Republic magazine, I tried to expend a lot of resources covering the revolution in Ukraine and covering Russia's invasion of Crimea.
And so I'd come across Paul Manafort's name, and also, just over the years, as somebody who is fascinated with the conservative movement, I had heard about him. I had heard about his firm. And so when he came to the Trump campaign, he was somebody who I knew was a good story. And over time, he became something of a personal obsession just because of his role in creating Washington as we know it. But also, there's almost a cinematic quality to this guy's life and the way in which he was constantly transgressing norms, constantly doing the thing that had been previously unthinkable in Washington.
GROSS: So what is Paul Manafort facing now?
FOER: So it looks like he's going to go to trial in about September to face these charges that Robert Mueller has brought against him. And so we need to not - we need to look at that in isolation but then look at it in the bigger narrative of - in the bigger strategy that Robert Mueller is pursuing, that he is constantly looking for ways to build alliances, to flip people. And so the question really hovering over Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates is, will one of them somehow flip? Will they turn state's witness in order to provide information that could help capture some sort of larger trophy for Robert Mueller?
GROSS: Well, there have been - there has been speculation that Rick Gates himself, Manafort's former business partner, is going to flip.
FOER: Right. And you have to say, somebody like Rick Gates is extremely vulnerable, that the case against him - on paper, at least - seems very strong. He is not a guy who has deep resources, and if he's imperiled, he's going to want to try to save himself. And so it would make eminent sense for Robert Mueller to pursue a strategy like that.
GROSS: So is Paul Manafort still married?
FOER: Paul Manafort is still married. And the - his affair actually surprised a lot of friends because he'd been such a devoted husband that - his wife has had travails. She was in a horseback-riding accident, and Manafort, over time, was extremely devoted to her, and that even though Manafort's had fraught familial relationships, he's somehow, in the end, managed to maintain them. And his daughter and his wife both paid millions of dollars of bail for him, and so the relationship continues.
GROSS: Is Paul Manafort still under house arrest?
FOER: He is.
GROSS: Well, Franklin Foer, thank you for your reporting. Thank you for talking with us today.
FOER: My pleasure.
DAVIES: Franklin Foer, national correspondent for The Atlantic, speaking with Terry Gross. His investigative profile about Paul Manafort appears online in The Atlantic. On tomorrow's show...
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: ...A lone marshal stands up against a gang of killers. We talk with journalist Glenn Frankel, whose book is about the Hollywood blacklist and the making of the 1952 classic film "High Noon." The film's screenwriter was one of the people called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He intended "High Noon" to serve as a parable about blacklisting. Hope you can join us.
FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, Thea Chaloner and Seth Kelley. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
(SOUNDBITE OF DIMITRI TIOMKIN'S "THEY'VE PARDONED FRANK MILLER")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.