New convention chief Paul Manafort has recruited veterans of his lobbying firm to help Trump’s effort.
Donald Trump’s new chief campaign strategist, Paul Manafort, is bringing on some close associates for key spots on Trump’s presidential campaign, including several whose lobbying histories seem to epitomize the special interest influence against which the candidate rails.
Among the influence industry veterans who have been helping the campaign in recent weeks, according to sources close to the Trump campaign, are Laurance Gay, who had worked with Manafort on an effort to obtain a federal grant that one congressman called a “very smelly, sleazy business,” and Doug Davenport, whose firm’s lobbying for an oppressive Southeast Asian regime became a liability for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
The pair join another former Manafort lobbying partner named Rick Gates, who was identified as an agent of a Ukrainian oligarch in a 2011 racketeering lawsuit that also named Manafort. And Manafort this week met with Marc Palazzo, a former lobbyist for a Koch Industries subsidiary who used to work as a communications staffer for GTECH Corporation, the controversial lottery operator, to which Gay, Davenport, Gates and Manafort all have ties.
It’s not clear whether the people who have recently started advising the campaign are working as staff, consultants or volunteers. But what unites almost all of them is a professional connection to Manafort, 67, a veteran GOP operative who was hired by Trump late last month to professionalize his campaign.
For the first 10 months of his candidacy, the billionaire real estate showman had relied on a relatively inexperienced skeleton staff that had helped elevate him from being a quirky political sideshow to the verge of the GOP presidential nomination. But that core team, led by campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, was seen as unable to take Trump all the way, so the candidate handed the keys to Manafort, who has moved quickly to consolidate power on the campaign.
Manafort has made a decades-long career drifting between GOP presidential politics and lucrative lobbying and consulting work. The firm he helped found developed a niche representing a roster of controversial international clients that has been described as “the torturers’ lobby.” Clients included Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, Angolan guerrilla Jonas Savimbi, a group accused of being a front for Pakistani intelligence, and — most recently — ousted Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. In fact, the last time Manafort was intricately involved in a presidential campaign was Bob Dole’s unsuccessful 1996 bid, and he has been largely absent from GOP politics and Washington for years.
Manafort’s recent additions to the Trump campaign have prompted incredulous reactions among Lewandowski’s loyalists on the campaign, who have privately questioned whether Manafort understands modern presidential politics, said one operative who works with the Trump campaign.
“They said that they were going to bring in a new campaign team, but Manafort has been out of the game for so long,” said the operative. “He doesn’t have any current connections, so he’s just bringing in all his old lobbyist friends.”
It’s an odd fit for a campaign based in large part on Trump’s broadsides against Washington special interests and their lobbying corps, which Trump alleges have skewed the political process against the interests of regular people. Those lobbyists, he argues, are backing his opponents out of self-interest.
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