“Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open Court. The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason.”— Article III, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution of the United States
No one who is sensible wants to hear that a U.S. presidential candidate’s campaign director might be complicit with a foreign power. It’s an unapealing thought. But hear me out for a moment.
- What’s happened in this election is different from past presidential elections. A virus has been inserted into our political life: the tactic of active disinformation. That tactic has worked. It has carried an unlikely candidate to within one turn of the news cycle from being president of the United States.
- The pain on which the Trump campaign is feeding is very real. But that’s just the market. There’s also the marketing. What about the marketing? What has the Trump campaign been doing? Whether by design or coincidence, it looks and smells a whole lot like the tactics that Vladimir Putin has been using, both in his country and outside, for over a decade.
- Could the Trump campaign itself conceivably have been inspired by Russian tactics of “disinformation”? Impossible. Unless, of course, Trump’s campaign director happened to have spent the better part of a decade advising Putin allies …
- Then it comes out that the Russians are hacking the DNC and releasing emails with the clear aim of sowing division at the convention and also that the Russians funded pro-Trump troll sites early in the campaign, bringing to the US tactics they’ve used in Europe for a decade. And suddenly the impossible is probable. With high likelihood, what Putin has done in Europe for the past ten years, he is attempting to do in the United States now It’s very alarming.
So in that context, I believe it is worth seriously posing the question, is Paul Manafort a potential traitor?
Here’s what we know
I. Working in the service of foreign clients, Paul Manafort has sought to influence officials of the United States government to take actions (1) beneficial to those clients and (2) potentially counter to the interests of the United States
See here and here for descriptions of that work. This March 24, 2006 cable obtained from Wikileaks (so we must consider the source) provides an example. Here Manafort seeks action on behalf of his client, Viktor Yanukovych (to whom Manafort was then connected via Rinat Ahmetov), presenting his case as being in the interest of the United States:
1. (SBU)Summary: Party of Regions (PoR) political consultant Paul Manafort (AmCit, please protect) called on the Ambassador March 21 to express his continuing concern about the possible disenfranchisement of “hundreds of thousands” of Ukrainian voters unless President Yushchenko signed into law an amendment to the election law that would authorize local courts to add voters, names to the lists on election day. Manafort cautioned that if the March 26 election did not go smoothly, any finding by the U.S. that it was free and fair would influence PoR leader Viktor Yanukovych’s understanding of democracy. Manafort said his most recent data showed PoR in the lead, followed by Our Ukraine and Tymoshenko,s eponymous BYuT bloc. While he did not rule out a PoR-Our Ukraine coalition after the election, he said that Our Ukraine’s conduct on election day would influence PoR’s willingness to consider joining ranks with Yushchenko’s people. End Summary. The Country,s Mood — — — — — — — — — 2. (SBU) Manafort said his polling indicated that 70% of Ukrainians wanted change, although the definition of change varied among the population. The Yushchenko government was no longer popular, and Ukrainians generally blamed it for all the problems the country faced. His polling showed that five months ago 50% of Ukrainians thought Yushchenko was trustworthy, and only 14% found Yanukovych trustworthy. Those numbers had shifted dramatically, with Yushchenko’s confidence rating at 27% and Yanukovych’s at 33%. Yanukovych scored higher in the public’s view than Yushchenko regarding management of issues such as gas supply and relations with Russia. Ambassador noted that the key issue affecting these numbers was the fracturing of “Orange” forces following the Yushchenko/Tymoshenko split, while the “Blue” forces had coalesced around one leader. Manafort agreed and said his goal from the outset was to build Regions into a party that had a platform and policies. Doing so was important for the development of democracy in Ukraine, he asserted.
I am sure that Franklin Foer @FranklinFoer, among others, can provide better examples.
I also leave it to others to offer comments as to whether, when seeking influence officials of the U.S. government in the service of foreign clients in this and other instances, the actions Manafort proposed were, or were not, plausibly in the interest of the United States. (I understand from a private communication that, on at least one occasion during the 2010 Ukrainian presidential campaign, an official of the U.S. government asked Manafort to cease his activities on behalf of Yanukovych; Manafort reportedly declined to do so.)
Note: So far, this is lobbying, and not potentially treason. However, it sets the context for what follows.
II. Paul Manafort’s clients in the Ukraine, notably including Viktor Yanukovych, were, and are, closely aligned to the government of Russian President Putin
This is a simple statement of fact. After the revolution in 2014, then-President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia, under the protection of President Putin, where he now resides.
III. The Government of President Putin has acted to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election in favor of Republican Party nominee Donald Trump
We can now make this statement with a high degree of confidence. As the supporting evidence is voluminous and complex, I will not seek to summarize it here beyond two links: here and here. (I offer my own attempt at context here, but I am only linking to the work of others. Likely examples of Russian-supported pro-Trump sites here and here.)
Update — The thoughtful and well-informed John Marshall of Talking Points Memo notes similarly:
Over the course of the last year, Putin has aligned all Russian state controlled media behind Trump. As Frank Foer explains here, this fits a pattern with how Putin has sought to prop up rightist/nationalist politicians across Europe, often with direct or covert infusions of money. In some cases this is because they support Russia-backed policies; in others it is simply because they sow discord in Western aligned states.
IV. Paul Manafort is the director of the campaign for president of Republican Party nominee Donald Trump
This is a statement of fact.
V. The foreign policy positions of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump have been consistently favorable to the Russian Federation in general, and to President Putin in particular, in ways inconsistent with past precedent within the nominee’s party and with consensus views among foreign policy experts
This a statement of fact. See here and here. Again I offer my own summary here. Most recently, the Republican Party platform “removed references to arming Ukraine in its fight against pro-Russia rebels, who have received material support from the Kremlin”. Paul Manafort has stated publically that he was not involved in that action; at least one expert observer questions the veracity of that claim.
Update — Of the change to the platform, Marshall says this:
This is one of a handful of developments that tipped me from seeing all this as just a part of Trump’s larger shadiness to something more specific and ominous about the relationship between Putin and Trump. As TPM’s Tierney Sneed explained in this article, one of the most enduring dynamics of GOP conventions (there’s a comparable dynamic on the Dem side) is more mainstream nominees battling conservative activists over the party platform, with activists trying to check all the hardline ideological boxes and the nominees trying to soften most or all of those edges. This is one thing that made the Trump convention very different. The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform. So party activists were able to write one of the most conservative platforms in history. Not with Trump’s backing but because he simply didn’t care. With one big exception: Trump’s team mobilized the nominee’s traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point: changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine. For what it’s worth (and it’s not worth much) I am quite skeptical of most Republicans call for aggressively arming Ukraine to resist Russian aggression. But the single-mindedness of this focus on this one issue — in the context of total indifference to everything else in the platform — speaks volumes.
Here is what we don’t know
We (or, at least, I) do not know
- The extent to which Paul Manafort has been the author of positions taken by the Trump campaign including, but not limited to, the change made to the Republican Party platform to which I refered above
- The extent of Paul Manafort’s continuing relationships to foreign clients, particular those with links to President Putin and government of the Russian Federation
- The extent to which actions taken by Paul Manafort in his capacity as Trump campaign manager have been explicitly, or complicitly, aligned with the interests of foreign governments, and potentially counter to the interests of the United States
As I am an economist, and not a lawyer, I also do not know
- Whether acting to influence the outcome of a presidential election on behalf of, or in complicity with, a foreign power constitutes “levying war”
- Generally, whether any of the above actions — even if taken by Paul Manafort — are treasonous offenses
Overall: We don’t know that Paul Manafort has been consciously using his position as the campaign director for the Republican Party nominee for the office of President of the United States to advance the interests of foreign powers. We don’t know that Paul Manafort has maintained an ongoing, active relationship with those foreign powers, or their agents.
We also don’t know that he hasn’t.
So I ask those better informed than I am: Is Paul Manafort a traitor?