WASHINGTON — Recent court filings from special counsel Robert Mueller shed new light on a mysterious payment to lawyers for Paul Manafort, the onetime chairman of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
The payment, for $125,000, was made in June 2017, halfway through Trump's first year in office. But it wasn't disclosed publicly until late last year, when prosecutors accused Manafort in court filings of repeatedly lying to them about where the money actually came from. Manafort was convicted in 2018 of tax evasion and bank fraud, and sentenced in Virginia on Thursday to 47 months in prison. He faces another sentencing next week in Washington, D.C. (Update: Manafort was sentenced to an additional 43 months in prison Wednesday.)
In the world of presidential campaign fundraising, where millions of dollars are often raised and spent in a matter of weeks, $125,000 can seem like a drop in the bucket.
But the route this money traveled, from its origin as a donation made to a pro-Trump political group, to its final destination in the bank account of Manafort's attorney, offers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of relationships Manafort built over 40 years in Republican politics.
These relationships have drawn fresh scrutiny in recent weeks. Both Manafort and another key figure in this story, Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, were among 81 individuals and entities that received formal document requests on Monday from the House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating a broad range of potential presidential misdeeds.
The path taken by this $125,000 also highlights the ways that Manafort took advantage of the Trump campaign's underdeveloped leadership structure to install his allies in top positions across the Trump political landscape.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the murky, loosely regulated world of super PACs and other political "dark money" groups, which are permitted to raise unlimited amounts of money from donors as long as they don't "coordinate" directly with campaigns, a legal standard that leaves plenty of room for interpretation. In this world, Manafort's longtime associates could hold key positions, and oversee the raising and spending of huge sums of money, often with little to no direct oversight.
One of these positions was leading a pro-Trump super PAC that Manafort helped to establish in June 2016 called Rebuilding America Now.
To run the group, Manafort tapped an old friend, Connecticut-based lobbyist Laurance "Laury" Gay. A former official in President Ronald Reagan's administration, Gay went on to work at Manafort's lobbying firm in the late 1980s. He is also the godfather to one of Manafort's daughters.
With Manafort's blessing and Gay at its helm, Rebuilding America Now raised more than $24 million between June and December 2016, more than any other pro-Trump super PAC did during the entire election.