When Paul Manafort entered an Alexandria, Virginia, courtroom on Thursday, he did so in a wheelchair. And dressed in a green prison jumpsuit.
That picture of Manafort, who was sentenced Thursday to 47 months in jail for a panoply of financial crimes having to do with his long relationship with Ukraine, was eons away from the bespoke pinstriped-suit wearing, ostrich-leather-coat-having political operative who seemed on top of the world as he toured Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump around the Republican National Convention in the summer of 2016.
The starkness of that contrast highlights how quickly Manafort rose in the understaffed world of then-candidate Trump and how precipitously he has fallen in the two-and-a-half years since that triumphant moment in Cleveland.
Manafort was widely considered to be past his political prime — he came of age, professionally speaking, during the Reagan years — when Trump suddenly named him campaign chairman and chief strategist in May 2016.
Manafort’s hire was meant to send a message to Washington Republicans: Trump was serious about representing the party in 2016 and was putting respected, veteran aides around him to accomplish that goal. (Manafort replaced Corey Lewandowski, a controversial figure whose qualifications for the job were primarily his unswerving loyalty to Trump.)
(A quick survey of respected GOP officials at the time would have, inevitably, turned up considerable doubts about both Manafort and his business practices. But Trump almost certainly didn’t do that.)
In the months following Manafort’s promotion, Trump’s decision to hire him looked like a stroke of genius.
Trump crushed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the final weeks of the primary season and easily crested the required number of delegates needed to formally be the party’s nominee.
By the time the travelling roadshow that was (and is) Donald Trump arrived in Cleveland to accept his prize, Manafort was being touted in some circles as the comeback kid — the man who brought order to the Trumpian chaos.
It didn’t last. Within a month of the convention’s close, Manafort was gone. While the official storyline was that he had “resigned,” it was clear from contemporaneous reporting that he had been pushed aside amid heightened scrutiny of Manafort’s past dealings with pro-Russia Ukrainian politicians.
That thread, once pulled, unraveled Manafort entirely. Manafort’s activities in Ukraine became a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller and he was indicted, tried and found guilty.
Manafort then agreed to cooperate with the Mueller probe but was found to have broken that agreement — nullifying it.
Which brought us to Thursday, when the legal system got closer to closing its book on Manafort.
Manafort will receive a second sentence next week from a different federal judge for the two crimes he pleaded guilty to last year, witness tampering and conspiracy.
-Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
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