On Friday, news broke that Paul Manafort, installed to run Donald Trump's operation after the firing of his original campaign manager, had resigned.
Eurasia Group U.S. elections experts Jonathan Lieber
and Jeffrey Wright
join Ukraine expert Alex Brideau
to discuss Manafort's resignation, his recently-scrutinized business ties to Ukraine, and where the Trump campaign goes from here.
JEFFREY WRIGHT: Hi, I'm Jeffrey Wright from Eurasia Group, I'm here with my colleagues, Jon Lieber from the U.S. team and Alex Brideau from our Eurasia Practice. Alex covers Ukraine and Jon and I cover the U.S., and the big news today is the resignation of Paul Manafort who had served as Trump's campaign manager after he was implicated by the New York Times and others earlier this week for taking about 12 million dollars in payments from the deposed party of Viktor Yanukovych, the former President of Ukraine. Alex, what's the nature of the work that Manafort did in Ukraine?
ALEX BRIDEAU: Well, Manafort is known as having been a political consultant to the Party of Regions, which was President Yanukovych's political party. He's given credit for basically rehabilitating Viktor Yanukovych's career, going from a politician who was plagued by scandal in the mid 2000's to becoming the next president of Ukraine in 2010, and Manafort gets a lot of credit for having done that. Now, Yanukovych was deposed in the Maidan revolution two years ago that brought in a pro-West, pro-reform government that made a big deal of the fact that it was replacing a pro-Russia government that it considered to be extremely corrupt. What has made this particularly important is that very recently as part of the anti-corruption investigations in Ukraine, there has been this disclosure of a ledger or payments made by the Party of Regions to various people, and the anti-corruption bureau yesterday, released the details of the payments that it says were listed for Manafort. So, that's become a media topic in Ukraine, where there was already a lot of questions about the Trump campaign's views, about Ukraine and about their relationship with Russia, and of course it's now become an issue here in the U.S.
WRIGHT: And we also know that Manafort has ties to Russian oligarchs, who are themselves close to Putin, is that right?
BRIDEAU: Yes, there's been a number of reports detailing how Manafort had relationships with Russian oligarchs, particularly one who was close to President Putin in addition to the relationship that he had with Ukrainian politicians and Ukrainian oligarchs as well.
WRIGHT: Interesting. Jon, we turn to the U.S., do we think that these revelations about Manafort and his resignation today, do they substantially change the outlook for the Trump campaign or are things as they were before?
JONATHAN LIEBER: So I think that, when it comes to the outlook of this election, the Manafort resignation will have very little or no effect at all. I think what you might expect to see is a slight change in approach from Donald Trump, we've already seen this a little bit this week. Manafort stepped down as two new campaign operatives were sent in, Kellyanne Conway and this guy, Bannon, who used to run Breitbart News. And you've kind of seen them have some effect on Trump already, he gave a speech last night where he actually apologized for being a little too bellicose for some viewers.
WRIGHT: But nothing in particular though.
LIEBER: Right, he both apologized, and said he was “too honest,” so if he's apologizing for being too honest, I'm not sure. But, I think that shows the influence of some of these new campaign staffers who were brought in to kind of help right the ship and help regularize and professionalize the campaign.
WRIGHT: Do we think that the revelations about Manafort, and the money that he took in Ukraine, will Trump have to answer for those in any substantial way?
LIEBER: I don't think there's anything new, I think we knew that Trump had these connections to Ukraine and some Russian sympathies apparently, that may have been driven by Manafort could be driven by the candidate, we're not really sure. I expect that, if I'm Donald Trump, I'd rather not talk about or hear about the words “Russian” or “Putin” for the rest of this campaign. And I think that will kind of be the sign of how important of an influence Manafort was, is, does Trump keep talking about Putin the way he has been or does he just kind of pivot and leave the issue alone?