Man(afort) overboard

So the big story in The New York Times this morning is that Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, long-time Republican operative Paul Manafort, was apparently very well-compensated for all the political consulting he did for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych a few years back:

And Mr. Manafort’s presence remains elsewhere here in the capital, where government investigators examining secret records have found his name, as well as companies he sought business with, as they try to untangle a corrupt network they say was used to loot Ukrainian assets and influence elections during the administration of Mr. Manafort’s main client, former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.

Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.

In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatial presidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.

There’s some seamy stuff in there for which Manafort may have to answer some uncomfortable questions, like whether he knowingly participated in efforts to funnel public money out of Ukraine’s treasury and into the pockets of foreign oligarchs, whether he paid taxes on whatever Yanukovych paid him, whether or not he properly registered with the DOJ as a foreign agent while this was all going on, and, for that matter, whether or not he’s still working for elements of Yanukovych’s old Party of Regions (which reorganized into a couple of opposition parties after Yanukovych was ousted) even now while he’s chairing Trump’s campaign. Manafort denies that he received any of these payments, which I guess means that Yanukovych’s accountant was just fond of scribbling his name into ledgers for shits and giggles. And, to be fair, nobody has video of Manafort accepting a big burlap sack from Boris Badenov with a giant dollar sign printed on the side, so there’s no conclusive proof that he got that money. Manafort also says that his involvement with Party of Regions ended in 2014, when the party broke up.

It’s getting harder to simply dismiss the conspiracy theory about Trump’s campaign having some connection, unwitting or otherwise, to Putin. I was all set to downplay this report, particularly insofar as most of the people citing it keep referring to Yanukovych as “pro-Russian” in order to maximize how sinister it all seems, when that’s really an unhelpful oversimplification of the policies he tried to pursue while in office (if Yanukovych were simply “pro-Russian,” he wouldn’t have spent three years, give or take, trying to negotiate an economic relationship with the EU at the risk of pissing Putin off). Manafort, now that you mention it, has been saying that his work in Ukraine was intended to bring Kiev closer to the EU, which, if true (a big if, granted), would hardly have been the work of a guy on Putin’s payroll. But the link to Deripaska, a billionaire who’s been suggested on multiple occasions of having ties to Russian organized crime and who definitely has ties to Putin, is a big deal. Deripaska seems to have put a lot of money into an investment fund that Manafort co-founded, and that was linked to a shell company allegedly used by Yanukovych and his pals to pilfer money from the Ukrainian treasury: Continue reading

Today in “how can this person possibly still have a job”

Say hello to Florida Attorney General Pan Bondi!


Hello, General Bondi!

General Bondi has a complex system for determining when to bring the power of the Florida AG’s office to bear on an important case, like the one about Trump University bilking all those rubes alleged victims. Has the potential defendant caused material harm to Florida citizens? Is the potential case winnable? Also, and maybe most importantly, has the defendant ponied up any fat checks to the Bondi Reelection Fund? To wit:

Florida’s attorney general personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump around the same time her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates

The new disclosure from Attorney General Pam Bondi’s spokesman to The Associated Press on Monday provides additional details around the unusual circumstances of Trump’s $25,000 donation to Bondi.

The money came from a Trump family foundation in apparent violation of rules surrounding political activities by charities. A political group backing Bondi’s re-election, called And Justice for All, reported receiving the check Sept. 17, 2013 — four days after Bondi’s office publicly announced she was considering joining a New York state probe of Trump University’s activities, according to a 2013 report in the Orlando Sentinel.

After the check came in, Bondi’s office nixed suing Trump, citing insufficient grounds to proceed.

Bondi declined repeated requests for an interview on Monday, referring all questions to Marc Reichelderfer, a political consultant who worked for her most re-election effort.

Reichelderfer told AP that Bondi spoke with Trump “several weeks” before her office publicly announced it was deliberating whether to join a lawsuit proposed by New York’s Democratic attorney general. Reichelfelder said that Bondi was unaware of dozens of consumer complaints received by her office about Trump’s real-estate seminars at the time she requested the donation.

Oh! Pam Bondi solicited that donation from Trump “several weeks” before deciding whether or not to sue him! That is certainly a very vague length of time! In that case there’s no possibility that anything fishy was going on here! I mean, what state attorney general starts thinking about the cases she plans on pursuing “several weeks” before she pursues them? None, I guess! I figure most of them just show up in a courtroom in the morning and sue the first suspicious looking individual and/or corporation they encounter!

Seriously, even if nothing improper happened here–and, come on–it sure as hell looks like something improper happened. And a public official who loses the public trust is a public official who should probably be out of a job. How does this one still have hers?