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Trump Campaign Turns To Washington Insider Paul Manafort


Donald Trump is running for president as a Washington outsider. To manage his campaign, he's picked someone who is very much a Washington insider. Paul Manafort has been a political operative and lobbyist for years, including for some controversial figures seeking to influence U.S. politics. NPR's Brian Naylor has this profile.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: For a candidate who loves to rail against the Washington establishment, Donald Trump's pick to run his campaign operation seems a bit of a head-scratcher. After all, Paul Manafort told a congressional hearing in 1989...


PAUL MANAFORT: The technical term for what we do and what law firms, associations and professional groups do is lobbying. For purposes of today, I will admit that in a narrow sense, some people might term it influence peddling.

NAYLOR: Manafort was testifying about his role in a scandal at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Reagan administration. It's not the only time that Manafort's business practices have come under scrutiny. His lobbying firm, Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, was included in a 1992 report by the Center for Public Integrity titled "The Torturers' Lobby." It cited the group's work on behalf of unsavory governments in Nigeria and Kenya, the UNITA rebels in Angola and a group with ties to Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Riva Levinson was hired by Manafort in the '80s, becoming, she says, his third-world traveler of choice.

RIVA LEVINSON: During my job interview, which was in the summer of 1985, when I was pleading with Paul to hire me, I promised him that there was no place I wouldn't go. And Paul took full advantage, and there was no place he wouldn't send me.

NAYLOR: That included Somalia, where Manafort's firm was trying to sign a contract with dictator Siad Barre, accused of human rights abuses. Levinson recounted the episode in her book "Choosing The Hero."

LEVINSON: I asked Paul if he wanted this guy as our client, and as I say in "Choosing The Hero," Paul's response to me at the time is, Riva, we all know he's a bad guy; but he's our bad guy.

NAYLOR: More recently, Manafort did work for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. We asked the Trump campaign for an interview with Manafort but never heard back. In May Manafort defended his work for Yanukovych on CNN.


MANAFORT: You will see if you do any fact-checking that I was the person that negotiated the framework which is based upon which Ukraine is now a part of Europe. That was my role. That's what I did, and when it was completed, I left.

NAYLOR: Those who know the 67-year-old Manafort give him high marks for his political skills. He helped Gerald Ford secure the 1976 nomination and later worked for Ronald Reagan. He was hired by Scott Reed, Bob Dole's campaign manager, to run the '96 convention. Reed notes Manafort has an apartment at Trump Tower in New York. But more importantly, he and Trump are peers.

SCOTT REED: He's the one person in the room that calls him Donald. It's not Mr. Trump. It's Donald. Come on, Donald; we've got to do the right thing here? And I think that's an important part of managing a campaign - to be able to have that type of relationship with the candidate of trust and, you know, knowledge. And I think Manafort's bringing that and professionalizing the operation in a way that it needed.

NAYLOR: Trump hired Manafort back in the '80s to lobby on gambling and real estate issues, and even though Riva Levinson had her disagreements with Manafort, she calls him a master strategist.

LEVINSON: He can hover above all of the moving parts, and intuitively he understands how to put them together. And he taught me how to not get distracted from the clutter.

NAYLOR: And with the Trump campaign, not getting distracted by the clutter may prove an invaluable skill. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.