June 7, 2018

The people to know in Paul Manafort’s orbit


Out of all the people to have been indicted in Robert Mueller’s collusion probe, Paul Manafort could have his own spin-off in the Trump / Russia saga. Manafort plays such a big role that he has his own chapter in Seth Hettena’s Trump / Russia: A Definitive History. That chapter is called “Blood Money” — but it could also be called “Solo,” because Manafort’s alliances with pro-Putin agents, until his brief tenure as Trump’s campaign manager, amount to a massive, standalone intrigue with its own cast of characters — including a Ukrainian president, an aluminum tycoon, and an office manager supposedly tied to Russian intelligence. Here are the top five names to know:

Paul Manafort: A former Republican lobbyist and political advisor. After running Bob Dole’s unsucessful presidential campaign in 1996, Manafort went on to start his own political lobbying and advisory firm, which quickly developed a reputation for taking on unsavory clients, including multiple dictators. Manafort was eventually hired by Russian billionare Oleg Deripaska to help members of Russia’s oligarchy score political positions. Through this work, Manafort was introduced to Viktor Yanukovych, a Ukrainian politician tied to Putin and so openly corrupt he was later literally run out of town. Manafort charged millions for his consulting services to Yanukovych while remaining on Derapaska’s payroll. At his peak, Manafort owned four mansions. More recently, he served as Trump’s campaign manager, until all this history caught up to him and he was asked to leave. Indicted as part of Mueller’s probe on October 27, 2017, he has steadfastly maintained his innocence.

Oleg Deripaska: An aluminum magnate who was at one point Russia’s richest person. Derapaska was responsible for hiring Manafort and bringing him to Eastern Europe to help advise the oligarchy on winning political elections, including presidential ones. Deripaska independently paid Manafort for his services, in addition to the fees Manafort collected directly from his clientele. Manafort eventually talked Deripaska into investing in a bogus company Manafort’s firm claimed to own. The fallout ended Manafort’s business ventures in the former Soviet Union.

Rick Gates: Manafort’s former intern and, later, business partner. Gates was considered to be Manafort’s right-hand man in Ukraine, tasked with keeping Deripaska abreast of their activities. When Manafort stepped in to chair the Trump campaign, he brought Gates on as his deputy. Gates was indicted along with Manafort, and pled guilty to his charges. In exchange, he agreed to cooperate fully with Mueller’s investigation.

Viktor Yanukovych: Independent Ukraine’s fourth president, believed to have had rivals poisoned and imprisoned. Yanukovych, after losing his first presidential bid, hired Manafort to help burnish his image and expand influence for a second. Manafort and Yanukovych became close; it’s believed the president seldom made a decision without consulting Manafort first. Yanukovych is also widely regarded as a Putin stooge, and it was under his administration that the Euromaidan Uprising occurred — ultimately leading to his ouster in 2014.

Konstantin Kilimnik: The manager of Manafort’s Kiev office, which Manafort opened after being hired by Yanukovych. The full depth of Kilimnik’s involvement in Manafort’s activities is only now being understood — it’s clear he was doing more than buying toner cartridge replacements. A former linguist in the Russian army, Kilimnik was working at a Russian think tank before before being fired for privately accepting consulting fees. He has denied accusations that he was mole for Putin, and has emerged as an ardent defender of Manafort’s work.



Michael Barron is an editor at Melville House.