sábado, 20 de agosto de 2016

Inside the fall of Paul Manafort

Donald Trump’s campaign chairman thought he could weather the scrutiny of his lucrative foreign political consulting. He was wrong.

Earlier this month, Paul Manafort met with Donald Trump and suggested that they put in place a succession plan for the upper ranks of the Republican nominee’s flailing presidential campaign, according to three campaign sources with direct knowledge of the events that led to Manafort’s resignation on Friday morning as campaign chairman.

Trump was in the midst of a string of self-inflicted controversies that were starting to resonate in polls showing him slipping further behind Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, and Manafort warned his boss that things were about to get worse.

The stories, Manafort argued to Trump, were being coordinated by Clinton’s allies, and they were going to continue for the remainder of the election cycle as long as Manafort remained at the helm.

“This is going to be a distraction, and I don’t want to be a distraction for the campaign,” Manafort told Trump, according to a campaign official briefed on the meeting. The official said Manafort, with Trump’s blessing, “started putting a plan in place” for succession “because he knew exactly what was going to happen, and he didn’t want to leave Trump without any leadership. He’s been around politics long enough to know that you need to have a Plan B and a Plan C.”

Although Manafort told associates that he thought he would be able to weather the controversy, his meeting with Trump nonetheless sparked internal discussions about changes to the campaign’s senior management structure. They included elevating pollster Kellyanne Conway, who had been brought onto the campaign last month, into a more senior role, and also officially bringing on Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon, who had been informally advising people around the campaign for months.

Still, Manafort associates said, he hoped he could ride out the storm and remain with the campaign until the end. That’s despite what the associates characterize as Manafort’s growing frustration with Trump’s unwillingness to embrace advice for a more scripted, measured tone and a greater reliance on more traditional campaign tactics.

Paul Manafort resigns from Trump campaign

By Nolan D. McCaskill, Alex Isenstadt and Shane Goldmacher

But it quickly became clear that the controversies around Manafort’s Ukraine work were going to be even worse than he had anticipated.

On Sunday night, The New York Times published the first of the stories that had Manafort worried — revealing that Ukrainian investigators were looking into a “secret ledger” that listed $12.7 million in cash payments earmarked for Manafort by the party of the deposed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

A little more than two days later, in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, news broke that Trump was bringing on Conway as campaign manager and Bannon as the campaign’s chief executive, a newly created role for a conservative media firebrand with no previous campaign experience.

Campaign sources publicly played down talk that the moves represented a shakeup or a demotion for Manafort, whom they said would remain on as campaign chairman. But behind the scenes, the campaign was bracing for the next round of damaging stories about his work in Ukraine.

Sure enough, later that day, The Associated Press reported that Manafort and his longtime deputy Rick Gates (who had followed Manafort onto the Trump campaign) had in 2012 secretly steered $2.2 million to a pair of Washington lobbying firms to boost Yanukovych’s pro-Kremlin government in a manner intended to circumvent disclosure requirements.

The story was followed in short order by a POLITICO investigation revealing that Manafort and Gates — working with a former Russian army linguist allegedly linked to the country’s intelligence service — had continued through late last year to advise the Russia-friendly Ukrainian party that arose from the ashes of Yanukovych’s government.

Manafort pushed back on the stories one by one, denying to the Times that he received the $12.7 million in cash, defending the legality of the lobbying arrangement exposed by the AP, and insisting to POLITICO that he “had no contract and did no business after [the] 2014 elections” in Ukraine.

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