How Manafort and Stone helped spawn Trump’s white whale

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - ‘ALL THE BEST PEO­PLE’ BY MANUEL ROIG-FRANZIA

On that par­tic­u­lar April 1 in Wash­ing­ton, in the midst of a pres­i­den­tial pri­mary season trend­ing to­ward a Rea­gan land­slide, Paul Manafort had a lot to cel­e­brate.

The Repub­li­can op­er­a­tive with the thick, metic­u­lously parted black hair and mag­netic smile was turn­ing 31. And by a quirk of bu­reau­cratic fate, his new busi­ness hap­pened to be of­fi­cially launch­ing on that same day in 1980.

The lit­tle shop that Manafort opened in Alexan­dria, Va., was en­vi­sioned as a po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing busi­ness, like so many oth­ers in the cap­i­tal. But in the com­ing months — as the can­di­date he worked for, Ron­ald Rea­gan, swept into the White House — Manafort had an­other idea to bounce off his two part­ners, Char­lie Black and Roger Stone. They should be lob­by­ists, too. “I said, ‘Why in the hell would we want to do that? It’s bor­ing as hell!’ ” Black re­called in a re­cent

in­ter­view. “Paul said it wasn’t at all bor­ing.”

Manafort had one more thing to say: “It paid well.” That caught Stone’s at­ten­tion. “You bet,” Stone re­called. “I’m in­ter­ested in mak­ing a liv­ing!”

None of them knew it then, but that one con­ver­sa­tion, a chat among three am­bi­tious young Rea­gan­ites — Stone was just 28 and Black only 33 — would have a trans­for­ma­tive ef­fect on the cap­i­tal, nudg­ing Wash­ing­ton into a gen­er­a­tion-long evo­lu­tion. Their busi­ness would morph into a then-un­heard-of hy­brid, a bi­par­ti­san firm that would help elect politi­cians — some­times hedg­ing by play­ing both sides in the same race — then lobby those same politi­cians. Rad­i­cal, dis­rup­tive and fre­quently crit­i­cized as eth­i­cally un­sa­vory at the time, the mix is de rigueur now.

“I don’t think they in­vented the swamp,” said John Don­ald­son, a vet­eran Wash­ing­ton strate­gist who was an early em­ployee of the firm. “They in­vented an in­no­va­tive way to nav­i­gate the swamp.”

One of the first clients of the firm they chris­tened Black, Manafort & Stone was a New York devel­oper named Don­ald J. Trump, brought into their port­fo­lio by Stone, who’d met him through the no­to­ri­ous Gotham lawyer Roy Cohn.

The brash Rea­gan boys would be­come es­sen­tial ar­chi­tects of the city Trump now dom­i­nates, a place where the line be­tween the lob­by­ists and the lob­bied is so blurred that some ques­tion whether it ex­ists at all.

By the time their busi­ness was born, they were al­ready ex­pert nav­i­ga­tors of loop­holes — Black and Stone, along with GOP op­er­a­tive John T. “Terry” Dolan, had founded the Na­tional Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Com­mit­tee, best known as Nick-Pac, five years ear­lier. The hy­per­ag­gres­sive group was one of the first to bun­dle con­tri­bu­tions to cir­cum­vent lim­its on in­di­vid­ual cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions, and was a pre­cur­sor to the rise of su­per PACs, which can­di­date Trump lam­basted four decades later as prime ex­am­ples of Wash­ing­ton’s swamp prob­lem.

The part­ners’ new full-ser­vice in­flu­ence busi­ness so pros­pered that they soon shrugged off their hum­ble digs in a mod­est town­house of­fice across the Po­tomac from the cap­i­tal and built their own swanky lob­by­ing palace a few blocks away.

From that perch, they set in mo­tion a chain of events that led straight to the Trump White House.

It was Stone who ush­ered then­can­di­date Trump into the fringy nether­world of In­ter­net con­spir­acy en­thu­si­asts and far-right ac­tivists by ar­rang­ing for him to ap­pear on “In­fowars,” the pro­gram hosted by Alex Jones that boasts a mas­sive dig­i­tal fol­low­ing and has a pen­chant for spread­ing out­ra­geously false sto­ries.

Stone would also help Trump reach out to main­stream Republi- cans by sug­gest­ing that he hire Manafort as cam­paign chair­man. Manafort, who owned an apart­ment in Trump Tower but wasn’t close to the can­di­date, was sold to Trump by Stone and oth­ers as the per­fect man to tap long-stand­ing con­nec­tions with party reg­u­lars in the event of a floor fight at the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion.

Trump — who vowed to bring “all the best peo­ple” to Wash­ing­ton as pres­i­dent — is now knit in scan­dal with both Manafort and Stone. Manafort has been con­victed in a fraud case and has pleaded guilty to con­spir­acy and ob­struc­tion of jus­tice in an­other le­gal mat­ter in re­turn for co­op­er­at­ing in the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in sup­port of Trump in 2016.

Stone, an early ad­viser to Trump’s elec­tion ef­fort, has been the sub­ject of in­ten­si­fy­ing grand jury scru­tiny in the same spe­cial coun­sel probe re­lated to state­ments he made in 2016 pre­dict­ing the re­lease by Wik­iLeaks of doc­u­ments dam­ag­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign.

But on that April day long ago, with grand ju­ries and sub­poe­nas far off in their fu­tures, Manafort and Stone were about to make them­selves star play­ers in a Wash­ing­ton game of their own de­vis­ing, a game with rules they were writ­ing as they played it. In a but­ton-down town, they were randy, flashy and flush with cash.

They would sell an idea as much as a ser­vice — the no­tion that ev­ery­one ought to have a lob­by­ist. Not just corporations and spe­cial-in­ter­est groups, but also African war­lords and Western Pa­cific strong­men. The politi­cians they’d help to elect would be their al­lies in the sales game.

“That was a new game. No­body had done that be­fore,” said long­time Repub­li­can strate­gist Ed Rollins, who worked with Manafort and Stone in the Rea­gan cam­paign. “It’s the epit­ome of ev­ery­thing every­body wants to clean up.”

A les­son in loy­alty

In 1970, a high school kid named Roger Stone ar­rived at the Con­necti­cut state con­ven­tion of Young Repub­li­cans, a group of fresh-faced con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists that had played an out­size role in shift­ing the GOP to the right in the pre­vi­ous decade.

Stone, born in Nor­walk, Conn., the son of a well-drilling com­pany owner, had shown up with more than his share of bravado — but with­out a ho­tel room. Dolan, Stone’s friend and a fu­ture Repub­li­can king­maker, walked the teenager over to meet a guy who could help.

Paul Manafort Jr. had a pedi­gree in Con­necti­cut pol­i­tics. His fa­ther, Paul Manafort Sr., was a lo­cal Repub­li­can macher and mayor of New Bri­tain, Conn. The younger Manafort served in a lead­er­ship role with the Young Repub­li­cans. To Stone, he looked like a bud­ding mas­ter of the uni­verse.

“Hey, kid, how ya’ doin’?” Stone re­called Manafort say­ing be­fore get­ting down to suss­ing him out. “Why are you sup­port­ing We­icker?”

Manafort was re­fer­ring to Low­ell We­icker, a mod­er­ate Repub­li­can can­di­date for U.S. se­na­tor. Manafort, clearly, was testing the kid.

“You think I give a f­­­ about We­icker? I’m here to elect Meskill,” Stone shot back, mean­ing Thomas Meskill, a con­ser­va­tive gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date ad­mired by youth­ful Repub­li­cans, such as Manafort, who were try­ing to steer the party to the right.

Stone, who’d be­come an arch right-winger af­ter read­ing Barry Gold­wa­ter’s “The Con­science of a Con­ser­va­tive,” had passed the test.

In a city sat­u­rated with vis­i­tors, Manafort al­most mag­i­cally found Stone a ho­tel room.

Stone even­tu­ally be­came en­tranced with Richard M. Nixon and earned the re­spect of the Nixon team with a dirty trick in New Hamp­shire: Stone made a con­tri­bu­tion to one of Nixon’s ri­vals in the 1972 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in the name of a so­cial­ist group and then passed the re­ceipt to a lo­cal news­pa­per.

Dur­ing Nixon’s first term, said, he rented a room from the pres­i­dent’s in­flu­en­tial cam­paign aide, Her­bert L. “Bart” Porter, in the Pal­isades neigh­bor­hood of North­west Wash­ing­ton. On the night of the Water­gate break-in, Stone said, Porter was out of town and Stone spent the evening tak­ing ur­gent phone mes­sages from Water­gate fig­ures, such as G. Gor­don Liddy, who or­ga­nized the bur­glary at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee head­quar­ters.

What an­i­mated Stone and Manafort in those days wasn’t the me­chan­ics of run­ning the gov­ern­ment. “Gov­ern­ment is im­pos­si­bly dull,” Stone is wont to say. What juiced him, rather, was the thrill of schem­ing how to win cam­paigns.

Manafort was a mas­ter strate­gist, but in the mid-1970s he made a mis­cal­cu­la­tion. Go­ing against his friends Stone and Black, in 1976 he sup­ported a full term for Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford, who’d be­come chief ex­ec­u­tive af­ter Nixon re­signed amid the Water­gate scan­dal.

Black said he and Stone “thought Ford was a loser.”

Manafort had been ex­pected to be­come pres­i­dent of the na­tional Young Repub­li­cans. Ford’s loss to Demo­crat Jimmy Carter turned Manafort into a li­a­bil­ity.

“It’s al­most Shake­spearean,” said Don­ald­son, who would be­come Manafort’s col­league at Black, Manafort & Stone. “There had been all th­ese peo­ple who had been ask­ing Paul for fa­vors. Ford loses, now no­body was re­turn­ing his phone calls. He’s os­tra­cized.”

Manafort wasn’t about to re­main out­side the power struc­ture. He and Black crafted a plan: Stone, de­spite his dirty-trick­ster rep­u­ta­tion, would run for the Young Repub­li­can pres­i­dency in his buddy’s place.

Manafort, mean­while, got on a plane and per­suaded Stone’s chief ri­val to run for trea­surer rather than pres­i­dent.

“Paul Manafort’s a deal­maker,” Stone re­called. “He told him it’s bet­ter to be trea­surer.”

In 1977, Stone was elected head of the Young Repub­li­cans.

The ex­pe­ri­ence changed Manafort, friends say. “He remembered peo­ple who didn’t re­turn his phone calls,” Don­ald­son said.

From then on, Don­ald­son said, Manafort saw the world in starker terms. There were Manafort loy­al­ists. Then there was ev­ery­one else.

New dawn for lob­by­ing

In 1980, Stone signed on as North­east co­or­di­na­tor for the Rea­gan cam­paign. Black and Manafort would also join the cam­paign in se­nior roles.

Michael Deaver, the Rea­gan ad­viser, gave Stone a Rolodex of the can­di­date’s con­tacts in New York. Stone flipped through it and scoffed.

“Of 50 names, 40 were dead,” Stone re­called. “The rest were show busi­ness re­la­tion­ships.”

Only one name in the Rolodex in­ter­ested him: Roy M. Cohn.

Cohn was Stone’s sort of guy. He’d been the prose­cu­tor in the 1950s espionage tri­als of Ethel and Julius Rosen­berg, and he’d been chief coun­sel to Sen. Joseph P. McCarthy, the com­mu­nisthunt­ing rab­ble-rouser. When Stone ar­rived at Cohn’s Man­hat­tan apart­ment, the lawyer was sit­ting with one of his clients, An­thony “Fat Tony” Salerno of the Gen­ovese mob fam­ily.

Cohn sug­gested Stone go meet a friend: Don­ald Trump. The dash­ing young real es­tate devel­oper, still in his early 30s and build­ing his em­pire both in busi­ness and as a tabloid celebrity, was also busy con­jur­ing the legS­tone

end that he was a self-made suc­cess story, rather than the son of a wealthy man who set him up in busi­ness. In Stone, he en­coun­tered a bon vi­vant with a sim­i­lar gift for grand il­lu­sion.

Trump made a con­tri­bu­tion to Rea­gan. As the cam­paign moved along, he called Stone fre­quently, Stone said.

“He kept track of his in­vest­ment,” Stone said. “He was con­stantly check­ing in. He’d say, ‘Carter’s a piece of s---. If you can’t beat that guy!’ ”

Just as Rea­gan’s can­di­dacy was about to take off with a Fe­bru­ary vic­tory in the New Hamp­shire pri­mary, Black was fired as part of a cam­paign shake-up. He turned to his friends, Manafort and Stone, and the three de­cided to launch their own firm, with the Rea­gan cam­paign as an early client.

Rea­gan’s vic­tory in 1980 su­per­charged the fledg­ling firm. Manafort, shunned af­ter Ford’s loss, was field­ing calls again. Blue-chip corporations wanted lob­by­ists with con­nec­tions to the new ad­min­is­tra­tion. Even­tu­ally, the three part­ners pulled in clients such as house­hold prod­ucts gi­ant John­son & John­son, the in­vest­ment bank­ing firm Salomon Broth­ers, and for a short time, Ru­pert Mur­doch’s News Corp., ac­cord­ing to lob­by­ing reg­is­tra­tion re­ports.

Black, Manafort & Stone were an un­usual com­bi­na­tion.

“It was a mar­riage of con­ve­nience,” Don­ald­son said. “That’s not a group you would see talk­ing to­gether at a cock­tail party.”

Black was the in­sider’s in­sider, a tac­ti­cian with a long list of con­tacts, con­tent to eat lunch at his desk. Manafort was the chess player, a tri­an­gu­la­tor ex­traor­di­naire who was get­ting a taste for the high life.

Stone was the enigma, a flashy char­ac­ter in pub­lic with his Cab Cal­loway-style tai­lor-made suits, sus­penders — he in­sisted they be called by their proper name, “braces”— and felt hats. He was a mys­tery even to those who worked down the hall from him.

“He was on his own wave­length,” Don­ald­son said. “He would sit through meet­ings not say­ing a word, then say some­thing cryptic.”

Stone could be bit­ing. K. Riva Levin­son, who joined the firm in her mid-20s, remembered him star­ing at her dur­ing a meet­ing. She’d just bought a new out­fit with a checked pat­tern — her first for­mal busi­ness en­sem­ble. Stone turned to her and said, “Riva, you look like you could be on the cover of a box of Pu­rina Dog Chow.”

Levin­son couldn’t af­ford mas­cara, so she’d some­times put Vase­line on her eye­lashes. Stone told her it looked like sex lu­bri­cant.

Stone said he re­called mak­ing sim­i­lar com­ments but remembered the set­ting dif­fer­ently, say­ing his re­marks were part of an an­nual of­fice roast.

Manafort and Black each presided over teams of young as­so­ciates. Stone pre­ferred to work with a skele­ton crew — usu­ally just one as­sis­tant — all the bet­ter to keep his se­cret ac­tiv­i­ties on po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns opaque and build his mys­tique. He burned through as­sis­tants.

Busi­ness poured in. Stone inked po­lit­i­cal clients, such as New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean (R), Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), a fu­ture pres­i­den­tial con­tender. Cor­po­rate clients brought in the big money, but it was the firm’s rep­u­ta­tion as a po­lit­i­cally con­nected shop that lured them.

“I went out and signed the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Stone said. “That was my big client.”

There was lit­tle that Stone wasn’t will­ing to do for Trump in those days, as now. When the New York devel­oper bought a yacht — then one of the largest in the world — from the arms dealer Ad­nan Khashoggi, Stone ma­neu­vered to get ap­proval for a dredg­ing op­er­a­tion so it could be docked at a ma­rina in New Jersey.

“Those per­mits can take years,” Stone re­called. “I got it done in months.” How? “I’m Roger Stone,” he said. Trump was a fa­mous client but not nec­es­sar­ily a huge rev­enue gen­er­a­tor for the firm, even as they worked on projects such as get­ting around height re­stric­tions for a Chicago sky­scraper and block­ing com­pe­ti­tion for his casi­nos from In­dian tribes.

“Don­ald Trump never pays any­body a lot,” Stone said.

Nor was he par­tic­u­larly easy to han­dle when bills came due, Black said.

“We had trou­ble get­ting paid on time,” he re­called.

A pat­tern de­vel­oped, Black said. He would call Trump to ask him to pay an overdue bill, and Trump would start off say­ing he’d pay half.

“When I have cash, I’ll pay you the rest,” Trump would say, ac­cord­ing to Black.

Black would re­spond: “I’m sure, Don­ald, you’ve got cash.”

Trump would then tell Black to come up to New York to see him. Black would fly to Man­hat­tan to col­lect a check.

Af­ter Rea­gan’s re­elec­tion in 1984, the firm added Peter Kelly, the for­mer fi­nance chair­man for the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, as a named part­ner. It has of­ten been said that the ad­di­tion made the new firm — Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly — the first bi­par­ti­san lob­by­ing shop in town.

That’s mythol­ogy, Black says. In fact, he says, there was an­other bi­par­ti­san op­er­a­tion, headed by Wil­liam Tim­mons, a for­mer Ford ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial. But Black and part­ners scaled the idea, sign­ing a larger ros­ter of clients.

“I broke his busi­ness model,” Black said.

Break­ing busi­ness mod­els was prof­itable. By Rea­gan’s sec­ond term, they were rich men. Stone boasted to The Wash­ing­ton Post that each of the part­ners was on track to make $450,000 a year — an un­fath­omable amount for Wash­ing­ton in that era.

Stone made his pres­ence known around town, hold­ing court at his reg­u­lar ta­bles at the Palm and A.V. Ris­torante, the Ital­ian joint that was a fa­vorite of Supreme Court Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia. Stone’s car­i­ca­ture on the wall at the Palm was ac­com­pa­nied by the cap­tion “Whiz Kid”; he jaun­tily re­counted that he once found a steak knife stuck into the draw­ing.

Stone drove around in a Euro­cool Citroën, then switched to a Jaguar and a chauf­feur-driven Mercedes. He and his first wife, Ann “Bit­sey” Stone, hosted an an­nual Calvin Coolidge birth­day party that be­came one of the cap­i­tal’s more cov­eted in­vites. He’d in­tro­duce ev­ery­one to his dog Mil­hous (Nixon’s mid­dle name).

Stone was like a gate­keeper to Nixon, whom he’d be­friended in the dis­graced pres­i­dent’s postWater­gate years. He ar­ranged offthe-record get-to­geth­ers at Nixon’s New Jersey home for some of the cap­i­tal’s most prominent jour­nal­ists.

With suc­cess came scru­tiny and no small mea­sure of dis­dain for the young hot­shots widely touted as some of the cap­i­tal’s big­gest power bro­kers. In a Post pro­file, one Repub­li­can lu­mi­nary called him the party’s “sin­gle best con­sul­tant,” and an­other dis­missed him as “one of the great all-time frauds of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.”

“We were con­tro­ver­sial,” Stone re­called with a shrug and a grin. “Yeah, I helped Arlen Specter get elected, and yeah, I lob­bied Arlen Specter. So what?”

In an­other Newsweek column, the prominent Demo­cratic cam­paign con­sul­tant Ray­mond Strother wor­ried that the changes Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly and other firms were bring­ing to Wash­ing­ton were a threat “to the demo­cratic process.” Strother sin­gled out the firm for rais­ing money for two op­po­nents in a Louisiana Se­nate race: Demo­crat John Breaux and Repub­li­can Henson Moore.

“When one firm works for both can­di­dates, it’s not hard to guess who wins on elec­tion night,” Strother wrote.

Kelly re­mem­bers re­spond­ing: “Do you have to lose to be Amer­i­can?”

“It was some­thing new, and Wash­ing­ton doesn’t like new things,” Kelly said. “But within five years, ev­ery firm was bi­par­ti­san.”

Stone wasn’t about to apol­o­gize for their new promi­nence and power. Once “laughed at as an out­cast” for sup­port­ing Rea­gan, now he threw lawn par­ties catered by French chefs and hired con­sul­tants just to ad­vise him about flower ar­range­ments.

“They were very good,” said James Carville, who faced off against the firm in a Se­nate race, “at paint­ing tar­gets on them­selves.”

‘The Tor­tur­ers’ Lobby’

One day in 1985, Kelly awoke to bad news. A story was break­ing that Manafort was se­cretly work­ing on be­half of the Cham­ber of Philip­pines Man­u­fac­tur­ers, Ex­porters and Tourist As­so­ci­a­tions un­der a con­tract that would pay the firm $950,000.

The name of the group was an­o­dyne. But ev­ery­one knew it was a front group for Philip­pine strong­man Fer­di­nand Mar­cos, whose cor­rupt regime was ran­sack­ing that coun­try’s trea­sury.

Kelly says he had no idea Manafort had taken on the group as a client. Kelly was fu­ri­ous be­cause, at the time, he was chair­man of the Cen­ter for Democ­racy, an or­ga­ni­za­tion work­ing to sup­port the democ­racy move­ment in the Philip­pines.

“It was a ter­ri­ble em­bar­rass­ment for me,” said Kelly, who had to re­move him­self from the project to avoid a con­flict of in­ter­est.

Col­leagues be­gan to joke about Manafort. “We used to say, ‘He never met a con­flict of in­ter­est,’ ” Don­ald­son said.

Manafort, in spin mode, told Newsweek he’d merely been “try­ing to help both sides un­der­stand each other bet­ter” in the Philip­pines.

The firm was well on its way to be­com­ing Ex­hibit A of a Wash­ing­ton phe­nom­e­non known as “The Tor­tur­ers’ Lobby” — highly paid firms work­ing for despots and tyrants. Manafort al­lies ar­gued that the firm gen­er­ally vet­ted his clients through the State Depart­ment and that it was not un­com­mon in that era for the United States to align it­self with con­tro­ver­sial gov­ern­ments that had bad hu­man rights records but were nonethe­less al­lies in the global bat­tle against com­mu­nism.

The Philip­pines mis­ad­ven­ture led to some bad press. The firm was even­tu­ally forced to pull out of the con­tract. But it didn’t tem­per Manafort’s swag­ger.

“He’s an amaz­ingly charis­matic and ex­cit­ing per­son to be around,” Levin­son re­called. “He projects strength, power and con­fi­dence. . . . It was the place to be.”

In 1986, the firm once again showed its mus­cle when it took credit for get­ting Rea­gan to in­clude An­golan rebels in his State of the Union ad­dress as “free­dom fight­ers” who de­served U.S. sup­port. That same year, the firm ar­ranged for its client, An­golan rebel leader Jonas Sav­imbi, to ap­pear on­stage at the Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Con­fer­ence seated along­side Vice Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush.

The firm also inked a $1 mil­lion-a-year deal with Mobutu Sese Seko, the leader of Zaire who had been ac­cused of ram­pant hu­man rights abuses.

It was more than just the big fees that at­tracted Manafort, ac­cord­ing to Black. It was also the rush. “He liked ad­ven­ture,” Black said.

In 1989, Manafort dis­patched Don­ald­son and Levin­son to So­ma­lia in the hope of sign­ing the war­lord Mo­hamed Siad Barre to a $1 mil­lion con­sult­ing con­tract to pol­ish his image and, hope­fully, per­suade him to cease hu­man rights abuses.

“We all know Barre is a bad guy, Riva,” Manafort told Levin­son, as she wrote in her mem­oir and in a re­cent Post column. “We just have to make sure he’s our bad guy.”

Levin­son and Don­ald­son re­turned from a har­row­ing trip to a na­tion over­whelmed by vi­o­lence with­out a deal.

“We should never have been pitch­ing the pres­i­dent of So­ma­lia,” Don­ald­son said. “But Paul kept push­ing it.”

At home, Manafort played the role of the al­pha male at boozy golf week­ends for men at the firm.

“He’d take his cart and roll over your ball,” Don­ald­son re­called. “He would re­ar­range the rules to suit him. His golf game could be kind of like a ci­pher for some of his other ac­tiv­i­ties.”

Manafort was start­ing to fa­vor fancier clothes and pricey real es­tate.

“I think Paul started chas­ing money a lit­tle too much,” Black said.

For­mer as­so­ciates re­call a mas­ter pitch­man. But Manafort’s be­lief that he could sell any­thing to any­one could get him into trou­ble.

In 1989, staffers begged him not to make a bold pro­nounce­ment when he appeared at a con­gres­sional hear­ing prompted by a scan­dal in which the firm made more than $300,000 in fees to steer Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment ren­o­va­tion funds to a New Jersey de­vel­op­ment in which Manafort was a part owner. In a staff meet­ing, Manafort de­clared that he wanted to con­cede that he was in­volved in “in­flu­ence ped­dling.”

“We said, ‘That is a hor­ri­ble idea!’ ” Don­ald­son re­called.

But Manafort in­sisted. He used the term dur­ing his pre­pared re­marks, say­ing, “For the pur­poses of to­day, I will ad­mit that in a nar­row sense some peo­ple might term it ‘in­flu­ence ped­dling.’ ” And he re­peated it in re­sponse to ques­tions, a hint of a smile cross­ing his face.

“It was a com­bi­na­tion of be­ing proud of what he did and not want­ing to BS the com­mit­tee,” Don­ald­son said. “He never thought there was any­thing wrong with what we did.”

Levin­son ul­ti­mately con­cluded that Manafort “lacked a moral com­pass,” a char­ac­ter­i­za­tion Black calls un­fair.

“It’s not true that Paul al­ways lacked a moral com­pass,” Black said. “I think he tried to do the right thing.”

The firm was sold in 1991 to the pub­lic re­la­tions gi­ant Bur­son­Marsteller, but the part­ners stayed on. In 1996, Manafort left to start his own firm.

That same year, Rollins — who’d known Manafort from the Rea­gan cam­paign — wrote in his mem­oir about hav­ing din­ner in 1991 with a Philip­pine power bro­ker who said he’d de­liv­ered a suit­case with $10 mil­lion in cash from Mar­cos to give to the Rea­gan cam­paign. The man said the money went to a well-known lob­by­ist, whom Rollins didn’t iden­tify. Rollins wrote that the money was no doubt sit­ting in “some off­shore bank.”

For years, amid ram­pant spec­u­la­tion that the un­named lob­by­ist was Manafort, Rollins stead­fastly re­fused to name him pub­licly. But in a re­cent in­ter­view, Rollins con­firmed that the lob­by­ist was Manafort.

“By that point in time, every­body knew that Manafort was pretty sleazy,” Rollins said.

Manafort, via a spokesman, called the al­le­ga­tion “to­tal fic­tion.”

Back into Trump’s or­bit

The sale of the firm that changed Wash­ing­ton splin­tered the young crew that had put it to­gether. Black stayed at the new firm. But Manafort was gone, and so was Stone.

“Roger’s style — that’s the rea­son we parted com­pany,” Black re­called. “He had de­vel­oped a de­sire to have a bad-boy image and be fa­mous.”

Stone also had a knack for mak­ing him­self in­fa­mous. In 1996, he was forced to drop out of a vol­un­teer position with Sen. Bob Dole’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign af­ter a Na­tional En­quirer story said Stone and his sec­ond wife, Ny­dia, had placed an ad look­ing for sex part­ners in a swingers mag­a­zine. He de­nied it at the time, blam­ing a do­mes­tic em­ployee who sup­pos­edly had ac­cess to his com­puter. Years later, he con­firmed in a New Yorker in­ter­view that it was true.

Stone even­tu­ally moved to Florida, shut­tling be­tween there and an apart­ment he keeps in Man­hat­tan. He con­sorted with like-minded con­spir­acy the­o­rists and wrote books with provoca­tive themes, such as “The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The case against LBJ,” “The Bush Crime Fam­ily” and “The Clin­tons’ War on Women,” which in­cluded an en­dorse­ment on the cover from Trump, who called it “one tough book.”

Manafort dived deeper into for­eign busi­ness ad­ven­tures, build­ing a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness and in­dulging his mas­sive ap­petite for ex­pen­sive clothes and lux­ury real es­tate. Manafort made mil­lions work­ing for Vik­tor Yanukovych, the pro-Rus­sian leader of Ukraine — an en­tan­gle­ment that would lead to his con­vic­tion on fraud charges. Rick Gates, who had been a young re­searcher at Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, would be the pros­e­cu­tion’s star wit­ness, tes­ti­fy­ing that he com­mit­ted crimes on Manafort’s be­half and stole money from him.

Manafort and Stone stayed in touch. But years would go by when Black barely saw his for­mer part­ners.

In 2016, Manafort got a call he couldn’t re­sist. Stone was push­ing him to join the Trump cam­paign, as were other Trump con­fi­dants. Ac­cord­ing to a per­son close to Manafort, he had to rein­tro­duce him­self to Trump.

Manafort’s ar­rival gave Stone a cru­cial ally inside an op­er­a­tion he had left months ear­lier. Stone re­called get­ting phone calls from Manafort while his old friend was a hav­ing a pri­vate din­ner with Trump and two other cam­paign of­fi­cials at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach re­sort.

Even­tu­ally, Manafort was forced off the cam­paign. He’d pushed for Trump to em­brace a more tem­per­ate style but quit af­ter his role was di­min­ished in a staff shake-up that gave more power to Stephen K. Ban­non, the for­mer Bre­it­bart News chief whose pug­na­cious man­ner aligned with Trump’s.

Though Manafort and Stone were no longer inside the cam­paign, the two friends had al­ready left their stamp on the pres­i­dency to come.

“Roger’s re­la­tion­ship with Trump has been so in­ter­con­nected that it’s hard to de­fine what’s Roger and what’s Don­ald,” Manafort said in the doc­u­men­tary “Get Me Roger Stone.” “While it will be clearly a Trump pres­i­dency, I think it’s in­flu­enced by a Stone phi­los­o­phy.”

On the eve of Trump’s inau­gu­ra­tion, the three part­ners got to­gether, along with their wives, for din­ner at the Palm, one of their old hang­outs. It was the first time they’d had a meal to­gether in at least two decades, Stone said.

Be­fore they or­dered, they got word that an ar­ti­cle was com­ing out say­ing that Stone and Manafort were un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion as part of a probe of pos­si­ble Rus­sian in­flu­ence in the 2016 cam­paign, and that the in­quiry in­cluded in­ter­cepted com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

It was wor­ri­some. But it seemed to Stone as more of a cu­rios­ity than a se­ri­ous threat. They didn’t think they had too much to worry about, he said.

Af­ter all, their man was now in the White House.

“I don’t think they in­vented the swamp. They in­vented an in­no­va­tive way to nav­i­gate the swamp.” John Don­ald­son, a vet­eran Wash­ing­ton strate­gist

MITCH GEE FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

ROBERT R. MCELROY/GETTY IMAGES

TOP: More than 38 years af­ter start­ing as hy­brid po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives and lob­by­ists, the paths of Roger Stone, left, and Paul Manafort have taken a turn. Manafort has been con­victed in a fraud case and took a plea bar­gain in an­other in re­turn for co­op­er­at­ing with the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in sup­port of Don­ald Trump in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Stone has been the sub­ject of grand jury scru­tiny in the same probe. MID­DLE: Manafort, Stone and Repub­li­can op­er­a­tive Lee At­wa­ter in March 1985 in Alexan­dria, Va. ABOVE: Repub­li­can can­di­date Ron­ald Rea­gan and Stone, right, visit Detroit’s Chrysler plant in Septem­ber 1980. Rea­gan de­feated Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter that Novem­ber.

DANIEL HULSHIZER/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

RICK WILKING/REUTERS

TOP: Don­ald Trump pauses out­side the fed­eral court­house in Ne­wark with Roger Stone, di­rec­tor of Trump’s pres­i­den­tial ex­ploratory com­mit­tee, in 1999. They were there for the swear­ing-in of Trump’s sis­ter as a fed­eral ap­peals court judge. ABOVE: Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Trump with his cam­paign man­ager Paul Manafort, right, at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion in 2016.

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