In 2012, Paul Manafort thought he had done what he needed to defeat a Senate resolution to condemn the prosecution of Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and call for her release.
But the international political operator couldn’t outmaneuver veteran lawmaker Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., according to a document filed by federal prosecutors Friday in a criminal indictment of Manafort.
“I take responsibility for this resolution passing,” Manafort wrote in a September 2012 memo to “VFY,” which appears to be Ukraine President Victor Yanukovych. “I never thought Durbin would just ignore the rules. I have never seen this done in 30 years in Washington.”
Federal investigators seized the four-page memo during a search of Manafort’s home in Virginia in summer 2017 and prosecutors included it among 13 as proof of a conspiracy charge against the man who would later become President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman.
But those memos provide an unusual behind-the-scenes glimpse into the surreptitious work that some operators use to influence Congress and the U.S. government on behalf of foreign interests — from the perspective of one of those operators.
The Senate passed the resolution, introduced by Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., on a voice vote in the early morning hours of Sept. 22, 2012. But the issue brewed for some time before that as part of a broader Washington fight over Ukraine policy.
The resolution describes how Yanukovych defeated Tymoshenko in a 2010 election and then appointed a prosecutor who brought charges against her that resulted in a seven-year prison sentence. Tymoshenko staged a hunger strike to respond to her inhumane treatment in detention, the resolution said.
Manafort wrote a memo about the defeat to Yanukovych two days after the resolution passed, blaming Durbin for violating “the rules and spirit of the Senate” and saying there were “activists” in Congress who have large Ukrainian constituencies who are tied to Tymoshenko and were pressing for the non-binding sense of the Senate resolution.
“They understood that even if there was no policy implication, the PR benefit at least allowed some value,” Manafort wrote.
Manafort saw opportunities to stop the resolution because of the way Durbin was pushing the bill quickly through the Senate, writing that a few senators could block the resolution and put it off until November.
First, Manafort said he thought then-Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., could put a “hold” on the resolution in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “He agreed to do so as we helped him during his trip to Ukraine in the summer,” Manafort wrote. “Lugar is an honorable person and his prestige was such that we felt he could stop the bill and minimize attention.”
Lugar stuck to that position until the day of the committee vote, Manafort wrote: “When he told us that for humanitarian reasons (Durbin told Lugar that Tymo will die in jail if the Senate did not get aggressive) he felt he had to let the vote occur, we were forced to deal with the full Senate.”
Manafort then told Yanukovych that he had lined up several senators to hold up the bill, and remained confident even as the Senate stayed in session late into the night.
“Durbin used his position as floor leader of the Senate to have his resolution delayed until all but 2 or 3 Senators remained,” Manafort wrote. “Durbin violated the rules and spirit of the Senate and announced the resolution and then adjourned the Senate at 4:00am.”
Policy ‘more meaningful’
Manafort said the “questionable circumstances” discredited the resolution. And in a section called “Aftermath,” he wrote that he recognized the public relations impact but said that a policy announced by the White House was “more meaningful” than the sense of the Senate resolution.
The superseding indictment also included pages of memos from Manafort to his far-flung foreign political clients, including one to Yanukovych from Feb. 20, 2010, in which Manafort stated that he would manage an influence campaign but said publicly “I would not appear as a lobbyist for your Government. … In fact, I would be the point for all of these services.”
Manafort, in another memo, also revealed what he dubbed a “back-channel diplomacy” effort he and his team of lobbyists employed, including meetings with unnamed “high-level” U.S. government officials “to promote a positive ‘engage Ukraine’ program” in the United States.
In yet another missive, Manafort told his client that he’d “engaged dozens of Congressional offices including the leadership and every member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee.” Manafort explained he and his team had organized meetings with such foreign leaders as former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi with the likes of House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., to “make critical in-roads in how policymakers view Ukraine,” Manafort wrote in an April 22, 2013, memo.
Royce told Prodi, according to the memo from Manafort, that “we must continue to encourage pro-western forces in Ukraine.”
Prosecutors used the memos as evidence that he had submitted false and misleading statements to the Justice Department, which in September 2016 sought to determine whether he and others had acted as agents of a foreign government or political party without registering.
Among other claims, Manafort told the Justice Department he had merely served as a means of introduction between the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine and two lobbying companies, the indictment states. Those companies have widely been reported to be Mercury Public Affairs and the Podesta Group, which has since closed its doors.
But Manafort had paid more than $2.5 million from offshore accounts to two companies and directed their lobbying work, and kept incriminating memos hidden from the Justice Department, the indictment states.
Manafort pleaded guilty to two charges Friday in Washington, D.C.: one count of conspiracy against the United States involving tax fraud and failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and another count for conspiracy to obstruct justice by tampering with potential witnesses.
Kate Ackley contributed to this report.