Bloomberg journalists were hosting a series of breakfasts with national political reporters at the Republican National Convention last July and wanted an influential guest for the opening morning. With Donald Trump unavailable, the next best choice was clear: his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
Manafort had taken over the campaign and was directing it at a critical time, when Trump wrapped up the nomination and headed off fights at the convention between various Republican factions.
He left the campaign in August amid controversy over his role as hired gun for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. This week, The Associated Press revealed that Manafort secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago, and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine Putin’s opposition.
Now that the FBI has confirmed that it is investigating whether there was collusion between Trump operatives and Russian interference in the presidential election, Manafort has become almost a non-person in Trumpland.
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White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declared on Monday that Manafort had only a “very limited role for a very limited time” in the Trump campaign.
Like many other assertions that have been made from the White House since Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20, that was false.
Manafort controlled hiring for the Trump campaign, along with its media campaign and budget.
At that July breakfast in Cleveland, it was clear that Manafort spoke for the candidate and knew his thinking. He had been in charge of all the strategy for the convention.
He explained that he had put Trump in touch with Mike Pence, then governor of Indiana and now vice president. “I brought him in to meet Pence,” Manafort said of Trump, adding that the contact led to the notion that the Indiana governor “had value to Trump as a potential VP nominee.”
The breakfast guest the next morning was the Republican Party chairman, Reince Priebus. Priebus told me then how important Manafort was to the campaign, what an improvement from former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Priebus is now White House chief of staff.