When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to be special counsel, it was specifically to continue former FBI Director James Comey’s investigation into “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.”
Which is what makes the indictment of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort somewhat curious.
It was in Ukraine, not Russia, where Paul Manafort advised the election campaign of Viktor Yanukovych in 2010. Manafort became involved in 2004 after Yanukovych’s election win was overturned by the Supreme Court in Ukraine amid the Orange Revolution when it was alleged the ballots had been stuffed.
To the extent that Yanukovych was routinely accused of being a puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin, it is easy to see why the same reputation befell Manafort as well during his time in Ukraine. In 2006, when U.S. Ambassador William Taylor asked Manafort tell Yanukovych to dial back the rhetoric — Yanukovych was criticizing Ukraine-NATO joint military exercises — Manafort rejected the idea. The issue was too potent.
In the intervening years, Manafort helped craft a dramatic makeover for Yanukovych and in 2010, this time, he won the election. Perhaps that is what stuck in the craw of the U.S. foreign policy elites. Particularly if you believe that the U.S. had backed the Orange Revolution and the overturning of the 2004 election, then it was Manafort who was one of those principally responsible for undoing the work of the U.S. to install a pro-Western regime in Ukraine.
But often ignored in this “Manafort was a Russian puppet” meme is the episode after the election wherein Manafort lobbied on behalf of pro-Europe, anti-Russia trade agreement, called the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement. In 2013, Yanukovych rejected Manafort’s advice, pulling out of the deal. And what followed was a revolution in Ukraine, once again ousting Yanukovych from power in 2014 — some say backed by the U.S. — embroiling Ukraine in civil war that led directly to the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Yanukovych then fled to Russia.
These facts appear to be at the center of Manafort’s defense, according to his lawyer, Keving Downing, who said at a press conference on Oct. 30: “Mr. Manafort represented pro-European Union campaigns for the Ukrainians and in the course of that representation he was seeking to further democracy and to help the Ukrainians come closer to the United States and to the EU. Those activities ended in 2014, two years before Mr. Manafort served in the Trump Campaign.”
It is not an understatement to suggest that the civil war would likely have been avoided had Manafort’s advice been followed. But the fact that he was instrumental in both the election of Yanukovych and then advocating against one of his major policies as a lobbyist portrays Manafort more as a hired gun than a principled ideologue, let alone a puppet of Russia or Putin. He was working for his client, which was Yanukovych. It was business.
Manafort may have other problems in his indictment to do with his financial dealings, but being a Russian agent is apparently not one of them.
Which is what makes the indictment of Manafort curious in the context of supposed Russian interference in the U.S. election of 2016. Yes, Manafort was hired by President Donald Trump, but not because of any ties with Russia, but because he had been instrumental in helping Gerald Ford win the battle for delegates in the 1976 GOP presidential nomination, and by Ronald Reagan in 1980 to the same ends. It was no mystery. In early 2016, after firing Corey Lewandowski, Trump was having some trouble locking up all the delegates he needed to win the Republican nomination. Manafort was brought in to win the convention.
Now, to the extent that Trump had advocated a more open policy stance toward Russia to cool tensions, if that irked the U.S. national security establishment, surely hiring Manafort would have driven them apoplectic. The hire took place on March 28.
The timing may tell a lot. Just days or weeks later, Perkins Coie had retained Fusion GPS in April 2016 to work on what ultimately became the Christopher Steele dossier.
Right at that time, somebody — Russia? Fusion GPS? — we don’t know who they represented, was approaching Trump campaign officials with offers of “dirt” on presumptive Democrat Party nominee Hillary Clinton, purportedly from figures in Russia.
Low-level Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos was one of those targeted by this operation of offering a Hillary Clinton dossier, supposedly crafted by Russia. Later, Carter Page was said to have been offered the same Clinton “dirt” in the DNC-funded Fusion GPS-Christopher Steele dossier. And so was Donald Trump, Jr., in order to bait the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Was it a set up?
Furthermore, what if the Manafort hire was what set this snowball careening into an avalanche of U.S. surveillance, FBI inquisitions and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants? It certainly would explain a whole lot. The fact that the very first indictment handed out by Mueller was to Manafort should not be overlooked. We need to ask why.
By the time DNC was reportedly hacked by Russia — again only confirmed by the Perkins Coie-retained Crowdstrike since the DNC never turned the server over the FBI — it is easy to see how it became a mania. By the time the DNC emails appeared on Wikileaks, it was a sickness.
What it all suggests is that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of Manafort is simply the latest manifestation of the anti-Russia fervor that engulfed Washington, D.C. not merely in 2016 but for over a decade. It also makes the indictments specifically look like revenge on Manafort by the national security establishment, for rehabilitating Yanukovych in Ukraine, helping him win the election in 2010 and then helping Trump win the nomination in 2016 — all against the interests of, if not the U.S., then the U.S. policy elite. No wonder it is often called the “deep state.”
In this context, it is easy to see why and how the Trump-Russia collusion narrative might have been contrived and then foisted upon the American people as campaign meme and then mutated into a full-scale national security investigation of the Republican campaign for president in 2016. It was a perfect storm of jingoism.
In the meantime, U.S.-Russian relations appear to be at nearly an all-time low. U.S. policy in the Ukrainian civil war stands out as an obvious point of contention. So does Syria to a lesser extent, which is unsurprising, since the U.S. tried to overthrow the Russian satellite there, the Assad regime.
But leaving those conflicts aside, could things have been any different? Is there anything that can be done to cool tensions between the two nuclear powers? Mueller’s witch hunt certainly isn’t.
As a nation, we need to ask at what cost has this Russia witch hunt cost America and future generations dearly? Another century of Cold War is not far-off outcome. Which to quote President Trump, is sad.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.