Manafort’s Marcos connection
In the midst of everything that’s been happening (or not happening) in our political scene, we Filipinos have been distracted somewhat from what’s going on in Washington.
To sum up, in a single day (Tuesday), Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to a number of campaign finance violations, soon after Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was found guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud.
The twin setbacks bring to five the number of Trump campaign or administration officials who have either been convicted or pled guilty to crimes. The British publication The Guardian cites Michael Flynn, who served briefly as the national security adviser, who pled guilty to lying to the FBI on Russian interference in the elections; Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy on the campaign, who admitted to committing financial crimes at Manafort’s behest; and George Papadopoulos, former foreign policy adviser to Trump, who also confessed to lying to the FBI, for which he faces up to six months in prison.
But it is Manafort who is of particular interest to us crazy poor Pinoys. To many of those involved in the anti-Marcos protest movement, especially in the days of chaos following the Aquino assassination, Manafort’s name is familiar as he served as a “consultant” to the ailing dictator, a high-profile lobbyist who tried to shore up US support for Marcos during the Reagan years.
A PR consultant who was active in the anti-Marcos movement and hung out among the foreign correspondents stationed in Manila remembers Manafort, then in his 30s, as a fixture in gatherings of the foreign press.
At the time, writes Kenneth Vogel in a 2016 investigative piece in the online magazine Politico, Manafort was seen as “a hotshot Republican operative who had made his name helping Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and was pioneering a new form of international political consulting.”
In time, writes Vogel, a “Marcos front group” hired Manafort to “help (Marcos) retain his grip on power.” Manafort’s lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Atwater would earn nearly a million dollars a year from the Marcos connection, “one of the first big foreign gigs landed by the firm.”
A persistent rumor, which has yet to be verified or traced to a paper trail in the United States or here, was that Marcos earmarked huge sums of cash for Reagan’s 1980 and 1984 campaigns—“as much as $57 million, according to one claim made to Philippine investigators.”
Vogel writes that Manafort “worked more closely than previously known with Marcos and his wife Imelda in Manila, where Manafort and his associates advised the couple on electoral strategy, and in Washington, where they worked to retain goodwill by tamping down concerns about the Marcos regime’s human rights record, theft of public resources, and ultimately their perpetration of a massive vote-rigging effort to try and stay in power in the Philippines’ 1986 presidential election.”
Before working with the Marcoses, Manafort “sought and received approval from the Reagan White House,” signing a contract with a front group called The Chamber of Philippine Manufacturers, Exporters and Tourism Associations, in 1985. The contract, by the way, was executed by “a key Marcos ally named Ronaldo ‘Ronny’ Zamora who would resurface later as a key player in the mystery of the missing millions.”
Zamora is now a congressman and, according to former environment secretary Gina Lopez, had played a role in her ouster.
Back to the present day, Manafort was convicted on eight counts of bank fraud, tax fraud and failure to report a foreign bank account. Manafort, said the court, put “himself and his money above the law,” part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s “investigation into alleged connections between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, with whom the onetime campaign chairman has had extensive dealings.”
As he’s insisted several times, President Trump has said the investigation is nothing more than a “witch hunt… a disgrace,” adding that Manafort is a “good man.” Most recently, the US leader has made noises about possibly pardoning Manafort et al.
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