Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, filed as a foreign agent today. The filing revealed that Manafort’s firm, DMP International, received $17.1 million between 2012 and 2014 from the Party of Regions, the pro-Russian former ruling party in Ukraine. Manafort resigned from Trump’s campaign when it was reported he had received undisclosed cash payments for his work in Ukraine.
According to the US government, a foreign agent is any person who acts on behalf of a “foreign principal” in a political manner in the United States. To be classified as a foreign agent, the person must be engaged in political or quasi-political activities on behalf of the foreign principal. The foreign principal can be a foreign country, political party or other interest wanting to influence policy or political opinion in the United States. A foreign agent is required to register before they represent a foreign entity, but there are few penalties not to do so. Subsequently, some foreign agents only register after it is discovered they received payments. Both Manafort and disgraced former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn registered as foreign agents retroactively, after they took payments.
It is unknown who Manafort tried to influence on behalf of the pro-Russia political party he represented. It is also unknown exactly what they expected for their $17 million in fees, but the fees were paid.
It is perfectly legal to be a paid foreign agent representing a foreign government or political party in the United States. Approximately 6,000 people have registered as foreign agents in the past 80 years since it became law to do so. What is not legal, or ethical, is to not register or make public that you are representing a foreign interest after you have been contracted to do so. Manafort’s retroactive registration, five years after he began, raises a lot of questions. Was Trump aware that Manafort received $17 million to represent a pro-Russian political party? If not, what vetting did Trump actually do on his most senior staff members? Did Manafort influence Trump’s thinking on Russia? What other influence did Manafort put forward while being paid by the foreign political party? We may never know what exactly Manafort did to earn $17 million from the pro-Russian political party, all we know is that Trump’s campaign had people at the highest level who were paid by a foreign entity to act politically on their behalf in the United States.