WASHINGTON (AP) — Pick any decade over the past half-century, and Paul Manafort has had a starring role in the rise (and maybe fall) of somebody big.
This lobbyist/political operative/hired gun has been there for prominent American politicians including Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush and, more recently, Donald Trump.
He's also been at the service of a global cast of sketchier characters like Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos, Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi and, more recently, leaders of Ukraine's ruling pro-Russian political party.
Manafort, 67, was fired as Trump's campaign chairman in August after word surfaced that he had orchestrated a covert lobbying operation on behalf of pro-Russian interests in Ukraine. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Manafort also represented a Russian billionaire a decade ago with the goal of advancing the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The latest disclosure adds new intrigue as the FBI investigates whether Russia attempted to influence last year's U.S. presidential election in favor of Trump, and whether the Trump campaign cooperated in such an endeavor.
Depending on when the question has arisen, Manafort, who has an apartment at Trump Tower, was either a savior or a bit player in the Trump campaign.
A veteran of Republican conventions stretching back to Ford's 1976 campaign, Manafort was hired last March to manage Trump's delegate operation when it appeared the candidate might face a floor fight at the convention and his campaign was struggling. By the time the July convention rolled around, though, Manafort had the title of campaign chairman and a mile-long job description that included strategy, polling, political operations, media, communications strategy, budgeting, scheduling, vice presidential vetting and debate negotiations.
Don Trump Jr. lavished praise on Manafort at the time, saying the family "couldn't be more happy with the work that he's doing, the way he's tackling these things, the way he's handling the organization of everything going forward."
Now, as the focus on Manafort's ties to Russia increases, descriptions of his place in the campaign have shrunk.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Monday said Manafort had "played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time" in the campaign. On Wednesday, Spicer allowed that Manafort "got the job done on the delegates" but emphasized that he was involved with the campaign for less than five months. Spicer said Trump had not been aware of Manafort's work for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.
Charlie Black, Manafort's former partner in a prominent Washington lobbying firm, says it was no coincidence that Trump turned to Manafort when his campaign needed help, calling Manafort "a brilliant strategist and a good salesman. When he took on a client or project he always did a good job for them."
It's Manafort's list of international clients over the decades that has raised eyebrows. A 1992 report from the private Center for Public Integrity titled the "The Torturers' Lobby" listed Manafort's firm as among those representing foreign clients with widely criticized human rights records.
Highly successful as a lobbyist, Manafort has also had business and film interests. In the early 2000s, Manafort tried distributing or producing several films. One of them, "The Dying Gaul," premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005.
Financially, however, the period was not a success. After borrowing money from his contacts, Manafort was unable to pay it back, according to people familiar with his film career. Manafort, nearly broke himself, returned to his former line of work.
Associated Press writer Jeff Horwitz contributed to this report.
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