Paul Manafort walks the floor at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21, 2016.

Paul Manafort walks the floor at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 21, 2016. ()

After pleading guilty to money laundering and obstruction of justice, Paul Manafort, the globe-trotting political consultant and former campaign chairman for Donald Trump, asked for leniency in his sentencing, telling a federal judge five years ago that he was nearly 70 years old, struggling with health concerns and remorseful for his actions.

The judge rejected his entreaties in the spring of 2019, ordering Manafort to remain behind bars for more than seven years. Less than two years later, however, Manafort’s criminal record was wiped clean when Trump pardoned him. He was among the dozens of allies, extended family members and former campaign staffers allowed to walk free.

With his freedom, Manafort hardly retired to a quiet home life. Instead, the longtime power broker - briefly brought low by the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election - reengaged in international consulting, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post and people familiar with his activities who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

Manafort has been assisting an effort to launch a Netflix-like mobile streaming and entertainment platform in China that, according to corporate documents, has the endorsement of the Chinese government. In an email to The Post, Manafort said he was “not involved with China” and has “had nothing to do with China, including Chinese businesses, government, individuals, or anything else,” but acknowledged that he “was asked to make introductions to U.S. studios and potential U.S. partners in the venture.”

Manafort, now 75, also sought to advise political figures in Japan and South Korea, according to a person who was approached by party officials in those countries checking on the consultant’s reputation. Manafort has roamed widely, traveling to Guatemala last year on the invitation of a migrant advocacy group called Proyecto Guatemala Migrante. The group’s leader, Verónica Pimentel, said she and a colleague discussed Latin American politics and the Latino vote with Manafort and introduced him to a Guatemalan presidential candidate, Ricardo Sagastume, who confirmed the meeting.

Emails, documents and interviews fill in details of Manafort’s life and work between 2020, when he swapped prison for home confinement owing to the coronavirus pandemic and then landed a pardon from Trump, and this election cycle, as he prepares to reenter Trump’s orbit. Advisers say Trump is determined to hire Manafort, likely handing him a substantial role at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, because he appreciates that his onetime campaign chairman has remained loyal to him even while serving in prison.

As in 2016, Manafort has offered to work for free. He has met with Republicans in recent weeks about his role at the convention, though Trump advisers have not yet vetted any foreign activities and said last week they were not aware of his consulting work and would want to review it before the convention, according to people familiar with the planning.

Manafort’s support for the Chinese media venture, which has not been previously reported, may test Trump’s willingness to rely on figures with foreign entanglements and potential financial conflicts of interest. In 2020, a bipartisan Senate panel described Manafort’s connections to pro-Russian figures as a “grave counterintelligence threat.” Now he has made introductions for individuals seeking to do business with an increasingly assertive China, at the very moment that Trump’s GOP is presenting itself as a foe of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Manafort denied that his support for the venture mattered for broader geopolitics. “There is nothing about my limited role of introductions to U.S. business people that involves anything to do with the politics of U.S.-China relations,” he wrote.

Manafort’s activities also illustrate the enduring effects of Trump’s brazen use of presidential pardons. With the stroke of a pen, Trump erased consequences for loyalists convicted of crimes, allowing them to reenter business or politics and helping to preserve their professional standing. A Trump campaign spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Manafort maintained he was not a partner in the deal but did not answer questions about whether he had any financial interest in it. Emails obtained by The Post show he coordinated investor calls and, at times, had access to confidential financial documents. Leaders of the effort said Manafort was paid two years ago but is no longer receiving compensation.

Manafort’s participation in the effort raises questions about how he will balance sensitive business dealings and his influence with the likely Republican nominee for president. Trump pursued a trade war with China when he was last in office but has proved himself pliable on related topics, such as a potential ban of the Chinese-owned TikTok app, a move opposed by some key donors and longtime aides.

Now, the roving political tactician is refocusing on his home turf, said Hector Hoyos, a longtime Manafort friend and sometime business partner.

“His main interest is making sure the Republican Party gets its act together,” Hoyos said.


Manafort appeared in a wheelchair because of gout at his sentencing in federal court in Washington in 2019. He asked to be spared additional jail time so he could spend his remaining years with his family.

“Please let my wife and I be together,” he implored the judge, promising that he was “a different person” than the one who was indicted in 2017 on charges of covert lobbying and money laundering stemming from his work for an authoritarian, pro-Russian leader of Ukraine. Prosecutors argued that Manafort relied on overseas shell companies to hide millions of dollars earned from undisclosed lobbying, which he used to finance his lavish lifestyle in the United States.

Across two federal prosecutions, one in Northern Virginia and one in Washington, Manafort was convicted by a jury of some charges and pleaded guilty to others. Jurors couldn’t reach a verdict on all charges in Northern Virginia, and prosecutors in Washington discarded certain counts in reaching a plea deal with the defendant.

The outcome was a stunning comedown for Manafort, the son of a small-town Connecticut mayor who parlayed a law degree and raw political know-how into extraordinary Washington influence, helping to elect presidents and other politicians and then winning major contracts to lobby those very officeholders.

His lucrative consulting business, whose other partners included longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, rose to prominence during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and soon gave him access to custom-made suits and luxury real estate, including an apartment in Trump Tower in Manhattan.

Manafort’s work spanned continents. Among the foreign strongmen he took on as clients was Viktor Yanukovych, the Russia-aligned president of Ukraine who was toppled in pro-Western demonstrations in 2014 and later convicted of treason in absentia after fleeing to Russia.

In 2016, as his consulting business faltered, Manafort approached Trump and offered to work for his presidential campaign for free, telling him in a memo: “I will not bring Washington baggage.” Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III wrote in his 2019 report that Manafort hoped “resuscitating” his political consulting career with Trump could be “financially beneficial.”

Initially tasked with wrangling delegates at the summer convention, Manafort quickly rose through the ranks of the first-time candidate’s skeletal operation to become campaign chairman. The attention landed him in legal jeopardy.

In August 2017, after Trump had taken office, investigators probing possible ties between the president’s winning campaign and Russian officials searched Manafort’s Virginia home for tax and banking records. Two months later, he was indicted.

He was never charged with participation in the Russian effort to boost Trump’s campaign, but Mueller found in his report that Manafort had shared internal Trump campaign polling data with a business associate who the FBI said was connected to Russian intelligence.

And the following year, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that “Manafort’s presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign.”

By that time, Manafort had been released from lockup in Loretto, Pa., because of the spread of the coronavirus in the country’s prisons. His lawyers argued that he was at high risk because of his age and preexisting health conditions.

Just before Christmas 2020, Trump pardoned him, saying his prosecution was “premised on the Russian collusion hoax.”

The two later reconnected at one of Trump’s clubs and have stayed in touch since, according to a person familiar with their interactions. Manafort spends at least some of his time in Florida, and he has long-standing relationships with some of Trump’s closest advisers.

One of the reasons Trump hired attorney Todd Blanche to defend him in several of his criminal cases - including the ongoing New York trial on charges of falsifying business records to conceal a hush money payment to an adult-film actress in 2016 - is that Blanche was Manafort’s lawyer. Trump thought he handled those matters well, according to advisers to the former president. Blanche declined to comment.

Chinese business

Shortly after noon on a Friday in the spring of 2022, about a year and a half after his pardon, Manafort forwarded a series of documents, some marked confidential, to an entrepreneur based in the Chicago suburbs.

“Here are drafts,” Manafort wrote in an email obtained by The Post. “Pls review and let me know if any issues.”

The drafts outlined opportunities to purchase millions of dollars worth of shares in a privately held Hong Kong company, Standard Huaxia Limited, that was seeking to “further strategic projects in China.” The projects, according to the documents, would focus on history, English teaching, music and entertainment.

Manafort’s email followed an earlier message from Michael McCutcheon, identified as the company’s executive vice president. McCutcheon wrote that the company was working on a streaming service in China to be called “Doorways,” producing a television series on corruption based on a “partnership with the Central Government,” and creating a film called “Art of War.”

“All these documents are highly confidential, including some information regarding the military, and for your eyes only,” McCutcheon advised.

The Post obtained a “Business Opportunity Outline” for the Doorways streaming project that said it had been “created, authorized and supported at the highest levels of Chinese govt.” The deal was poised for success in China, according to the outline, because of the “history of principal’s involvement with very top of Chinese leadership.”

The outline doesn’t name the principal. Reached by phone, McCutcheon identified that person as Frederick Tayton Dencer, a California businessman who “has long-standing relationships with people in China” arising from earlier projects related to rubber and Chinese railroad ties.

In response to questions, Dencer wrote in an email that “all of the relationships in China were developed over 20 years by me and my team.” Asked about email references to the military, he wrote that the project was “purely commercial” and that “the military has never been involved.”

Dencer was extradited by Mexican authorities and arrested in Los Angeles in 2012 after allegedly jumping bail on fraud and other charges handed down by a grand jury in Montgomery, Ala., according to local media and court filings. He was later barred from practicing law in California for violating business and professional codes, including allegedly issuing checks without sufficient funds. The Alabama case against him was ultimately dismissed, filings show, and Dencer wrote in an email that the bar issue was based on “erroneous facts.”

A person who has participated in discussions about the venture said Dencer and his son, along with Manafort, have been its main proponents. Prospective investors have been told that Manafort’s role includes lobbying Chinese officials, this person said. Manafort denied that, and Dencer said all the contacts in China are his.

According to the undated business outline, those contacts paid off. It states that the streaming platform secured buy-in from a state-owned Chinese telecommunications giant, China Mobile, to sell subscriptions, guaranteeing “instant massive market penetration from day 1.”

So pronounced are U.S. government security concerns about China Mobile and its state ownership that the Federal Communications Commission denied its application to provide cell service in the United States in 2019. At the time, the agency’s Trump-appointed chairman, Ajit Pai, issued a statement opposing China Mobile’s application, saying it raised “substantial and serious national security and law enforcement risks.”

A Trump-issued executive order the following year included China Mobile on a list of companies with ties to the Chinese military and prohibited Americans from investing in it. The New York Stock Exchange, the largest in the world, proceeded to delist the company in early 2021.

China Mobile did not respond to a request for comment.

McCutcheon said the plans had evolved and that China Mobile was no longer involved. He declined to say why the change was made or if another company had been identified. He described the deal as still in a development phase.

“We’re hoping that we have news to announce in terms of the launch of this venture in mainland China within the next month or two,” he promised.

Meanwhile, Manafort is moving closer to a significant role at the Republican National Convention, scheduled for July. He is expected to be involved in organizing the convention committees and helping to manage the party’s platform process, according to people familiar with the planning.

Manafort’s role in the Chinese venture could complicate his return to Trump’s orbit, said Barry Bennett, a longtime GOP consultant and senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign who worked with Manafort on the party convention that year.

“That’s a strange corner of the world to be making a living in given the problems our country is going to face with China,” Bennett said.

Claudia Méndez Arriaza, Alice Crites, and Aaron Schaffer contributed to this report.

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