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Why it matters that Manafort is backing off his GOP convention role

The question isn’t why Paul Manafort is backing off from his latest role on Team Trump; the question is why he was given this role in the first place.

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It’s been nearly two months since The Washington Post first reported that Paul Manafort, the scandal-plagued former campaign chairman of Donald Trump’s 2016 political operation, was poised to rejoin the former president’s team. While details of his prospective responsibilities were unclear, the article added that Trump was “determined to bring Manafort back into the fold.”

Neither the presumptive Republican nominee nor his aides were willing to confirm the story, and there was no formal announcement about Manafort getting hired. That said, as recently as last week, he was playing an advisory role with the Republican National Convention and was attending high-level meetings in Milwaukee, which is hosting this year’s gathering.

Now, however, Manafort’s on-again, off-again relationship with Team Trump is apparently off again. The Washington Post reported over the weekend:

Paul Manafort, the longtime political power broker who served as the 2016 chairman for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, is no longer planning to help manage this summer’s Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The Post’s report noted that Manafort — who’d apparently agreed to work for free — backed off his Republican convention role just one day after the newspaper reported that he had re-engaged in international consulting, creating awkward challenges for the presumptive GOP nominee.

A related report from The New York Times included a statement from Manafort in which he confirmed the news while complaining that “the media” was trying to use him “as a distraction.”

While these developments are certainly notable in their own right, let’s not miss the forest for the trees: The fact that Manafort was brought in in the first place was stark raving mad.

I can appreciate why it might be difficult to keep up on all of the accused and convicted criminals on Trump’s team, and some readers might be asking, “Which one is Paul Manafort again?” But let’s revisit our recent coverage and review how we arrived at this point.

In 2016, Manafort oversaw Trump’s political operation — when he also volunteered to work for free — before he was convicted of a variety of felonies, including tax fraud and bank fraud. He even served some time in federal prison — right up until Trump pardoned him shortly before Christmas 2020, rewarding his former aide for failing to cooperate with law enforcement.

Just as notably, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Manafort “represented a grave counterintelligence threat” in 2016 due to his relationship with a Russian intelligence officer.

“The Committee found that Manafort’s presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump campaign,” the Senate report added.

When the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report literally pointed to a “direct tie between senior Trump Campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services,” it was referring in part to Manafort “directly and indirectly” communicating with an accused Russian intelligence officer, a Russian oligarch, and several pro-Russian oligarchs in Ukraine.

Even after receiving an indefensible pardon from Trump, Manafort’s troubles did not disappear. Two years ago — around the time he announced that he was getting back into the consulting business — Manafort was removed from a plane at Miami International Airport before it departed for Dubai because he was carrying a revoked passport.

A month later, NBC News reported the Justice Department was again targeting Manafort over allegations that he “failed to report interest in foreign bank accounts.”

It was against this backdrop that Trump was “determined to bring Manafort back into the fold,” for reasons that have never been explained, and the operative started providing his services to party officials ahead of the upcoming Republican convention.

In the operative’s statement to the Times, Manafort boasted of his “nearly 50 years [of] experience.” What he neglected to mention is that much of this experience was rooted in working for Kremlin-aligned oligarchs in the former Soviet Union and, later, campaigns to benefit Vladimir Putin.

The question isn’t why Manafort is backing off from his latest role on Team Trump, the question is why in the world the convicted felon was provided with this role in the first place.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.