The name Paul Manafort seems to be synonymous with the Trump presidential campaign and Russian collusion.
But if new court filings by the Department of Justice are any indication, Manafort was known by the FBI to be committing crimes before he joined Trump, and even before Trump announced his candidacy for president.
The filings made Tuesday in federal court in Washington, D.C., say that Manafort was interviewed twice by FBI agents prior to joining Trump’s campaign. The meetings occurred in 2013 and 2014 and the topic of the interviews was Manafort’s shady dealings with the Putin-backed leaders of the Ukraine.
According to a former FBI official, during the interviews Manafort denied knowing anything about money purportedly stolen by the government of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych. It was believed that Manafort was lying and that he may even have been involved as an accomplice in the theft. Manafort, who would later become Trump’s campaign chairman, promised to turn over some key documents but he never did.
“We had him in 2014,” the official was quoted as saying. “In hindsight, we could have nailed him then.”
Last fall Manafort was charged with numerous crimes in a multi-count indictment issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The crimes included money laundering and bank fraud related to his lobbying work for the pro-Russian political party of Ukraine. Manafort’s business associate, Richard Gates, was also charged and he pleaded guilty earlier this year.
Manafort resigned as Trump’s campaign chairman in August of 2016 after reports surfaced concerning lobbying work he was doing in the Ukraine. It was reported that he had received more than $12 million in payments from Yanukovych’s pro-Russia party but he had attempted to keep the payments hidden from view.
Tuesday’s court filing by Mueller’s team was called a “memorandum of opposition” which they had to file in response to a motion that had been filed by Manafort’s attorneys. They were vainly attempting to suppress evidence obtained by FBI agents during a raid on Manafort’s Virginia home last year.
Manafort so far has refused to cooperate with federal authorities, and he has steadfastly denied the many charges against him. Some people believe that eventually he will do what his subordinate Gates did: start cooperating with Mueller and plead guilty to lesser charges. There have been reports, however, that Manafort is holding out because of his hope that he will receive a presidential pardon.
Now we know that there are people at the FBI who could have brought Paul Manafort into custody years ago. If they would have done that perhaps we would not have a special counsel and perhaps there would be no Russia investigation. On the other hand, it may all be for the best, because eventually Manafort may help bring down the Trump presidency that he helped bring about with his shady dealings.
That would be poetic justice indeed.