President Donald Trump has lamented the situation of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort several times on social media, decrying Manafort’s treatment and essentially accusing special counsel Robert Mueller of harassing a good man.
Following Manafort’s conviction on eight felony charges Tuesday, Trump tweeted that he feels “very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family” and praised him for not flipping on him, adding that he has “such respect for a brave man!”
But regardless whether he has maintained loyalty toward the president, it is even less clear that Manafort has been loyal to the United States.
In 2017, reports surfaced of Manafort’s work with pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine, indicating that the former Trump official might have participated in or at the very least knew of planned attacks on U.S. military troops in 2006.
Feodosia, the Black Sea resort town in Ukraine’s Russian-dominated Crimean Peninsula, is usually a peaceful place — far from the political power in Kiev, and far from worries for the tourists who stroll its promenades and laze under sun tents on its beaches.
For Lt. Colonel Tom Doman, Feodosia was a shitshow from the minute his detachment of 113 reserve Marines and sailors arrived there in the dark on the morning of May 27, 2006.
“We had rocks thrown at us. Rocks hit Marines. Buses were rocked back and forth. We were just trying to get to our base,” Doman, the Marines’ executive officer, told me and my colleagues last year.
The Marines had been sent in as an advance party for an upcoming NATO military exercise, part of a blossoming in relations between Ukraine and the United States. In addition to constructing facilities for the exercise, the Marines were coming prepared to do some civil affairs work for the local population. “Ukraine wanted to come into NATO. We were trying to build our relations,” Doman said. “It was a total surprise we would get that type of [reception].”
U.S. forces were trapped by “thousands” of protesters for weeks, according to Doman, unable to reach their supplies or base.
Eventually, the Marines were forced to leave — under the cover of night — having achieved precious little of their intended mission.
“We basically waited out two weeks and under the cover of darkness one night got to an airstrip and flew home,” Doman said. The protesters were happy, but “the civilian population was extremely sad when we left,” Col. Bill Black, the Marines’ CO, told us. “We were there to do some construction work, build a new soccer field, children’s play area.”
President George W. Bush cancelled a trip to Ukraine planned for the following month, and the NATO joint exercise was scrapped.
A few years later, the Russian nationalist fervor that confronted the U.S. Marines in Feodosia led to the crumbling of Ukraine’s government and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Enter Paul Manafort:
Today, more than a decade after the siege on the Marines at Feodosia, evidence is gathering that an American citizen was being paid millions by the protest’s organizers to advise them on their political strategy. But he’s no ordinary American citizen: He’s Paul Manafort, longtime political money man, Trump Tower resident, and former manager of Donald Trump’s successful campaign for president.
U.S. officials believe it was the mob-connected, Kremlin-friendly Party of Regions that orchestrated the attack in Feodosia — the very group Manafort was being paid handsomely to assist in its quest for power.
In short: An American citizen who helped elect a conservative president with a strong patriotic, pro-military message was on the payroll of a foreign group that the U.S. government believes directly threatened its military personnel and undermined its foreign policy. Ukrainian officials and some former U.S. diplomats I’ve spoken to are convinced that Manafort knew about, and possibly helped plan, the anti-American protests.
U.S. officials, including diplomats and those in high places at the State Department, grew increasingly furious with Manafort.
Despite the criticism, Manafort kept on working for the Party of Regions and Yanukovych until the party boss was forced out of the presidency for the last time in a 2014 coup. Documents found in a lake at Yanukovych’s abandoned mansion that year appear to show $12.7 million in undisclosed payments to Manafort for his longtime consulting with the tinpot dictator, who fled to Russia.
It seems reasonable at this point, then, to assume either that Manafort knew about his clients’ involvement in the protests against U.S. Marines, or that he’s terrible at his job. And if he knew, certain questions immediately come to mind: Did he know about the operation before it was executed? Did he suggest it, or participate in its planning? And if he merely learned of his clients’ role in the protests after the fact, why did he continue working for them?
These are questions that remain unanswered.
Task and Purpose notes that efforts put forth by Manafort’s team in Ukraine are eerily similar to the Russian influence campaign Americans witnessed in 2016:
On one hand, it seems unbelievable: A dyed-in-the-wool, conservative “MAGA” American going to bat for a bunch of foreigners who targeted U.S. troops. It would have seemed far-fetched at any point in American history.
On the other hand, it’s 2017, and the whole affair — a Russian-backed influence campaign, using fake news, to whip nationalists into a frenzy for political gain — sounds eerily familiar to Americans now. As investigators close in around Paul Manafort, he’s probably going to have to answer some tough questions about that time his paying clients threatened America’s deployed service members.