Some of Mr. Manafort’s associates now say they had predicted that greed would be his downfall. Blessed with extraordinary political instincts and his Georgetown Law School degree, Mr. Manafort built his political consultancy into a power center in Reagan-era Washington, where the name of Black, Manafort and Stone became synonymous with string-pulling, insider access and electoral success.
But along the way, many say, he became a mercenary, willing to serve brutal dictators and corrupt industrialists as long as they paid handsomely. Rita Levinson, an international lobbyist who worked for Mr. Manafort from 1985 to 1995, said she initially accepted his explanation that he served strongmen to push them closer to Western democratic ideals. But “as time went on,” she said in an interview, “it seemed to me, he became all about money, big money.”
The Russia-aligned oligarchs backing Viktor F. Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president whose rise to power Mr. Manafort helped stage-manage, provided very big money for at least five years. But when a popular uprising forced Mr. Yanukovych from power in 2014 and that financial spigot shut off, the government claims, Mr. Manafort resorted to bank fraud rather than give up his lifestyle.
“Paul never believed that the rules applied to him,” said Ms. Levinson, who described him as “brilliant” in her 2016 memoir. “They were for others who couldn’t outsmart the system.”
A Power Player
Paul John Manafort Jr. was born in New Britain, Conn., about 12 miles from Hartford. He caught the political bug from his father, the town’s mayor, when P.J., as Paul was then known, was in high school. His father was indicted over accusations of perjury in a municipal corruption scandal in 1981 but never convicted.
As an undergraduate and then a law student at Georgetown University, Mr. Manafort gravitated toward Republican politics. By the time he married Kathleen Bond, a George Washington University graduate, in 1978, he had already worked on Gerald Ford’s presidential campaign, and he would soon be hired by Ronald Reagan’s.
Tall, good-looking, with an authoritative air, Mr. Manafort thrived in political boiler rooms. But he distinguished himself even more as a lobbyist. He and two colleagues from his days with the Young Republicans and the Reagan campaign created two linked consulting firms that broke the mold in Washington, achieving legendary success. Shrewd and aggressive, Mr. Manafort, Charlie Black and Roger J. Stone helped elect politicians, then scored contracts to lobby those same politicians on behalf of businesses and foreign interests.