WASHINGTON ― A former Donald Trump campaign manager facing a plethora of federal charges for allegedly laundering millions of dollars from overseas has a mysterious side hustle: He’s involved with a telecommunications company developing secure, “virtually indestructible” cell phones.
The news about Paul Manafort’s affiliation with an unnamed telecommunications company briefly came up in a court hearing on Monday. Manafort was arrested last week after a grand jury run by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, indicted Manafort and former business associate Rick Gates on 12 federal charges. Both men currently remain on house arrest with GPS monitors on their ankles as they try to reach a deal with the government that could relax some of the conditions of their pretrial release.
Manafort’s work as a lobbyist for foreign governments was well known, and Manafort attorney Kevin Downing described him at the Monday hearing as an “international consultant” who worked on campaigns and overseas investing and had a lot of clients in New York City. The news that he also does some work in tech came up after Downing mentioned that Manafort did a “bit of work down in Florida” and that he’s “got a business down in Fort Lauderdale.” That piqued U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s curiosity. “What’s the business?” she asked.
“It’s a telecommunications business,” Downing replied. “It’s developing secure cell phones, and it also does make them relatively or virtually indestructible.”
Downing did not respond to HuffPost’s questions about the telecommunications business on Monday or Tuesday, and Judge Jackson issued a gag order on Wednesday that restricts attorneys’ comments to the media. (Jackson had admonished Downing after he spoke to cameras outside the courthouse after Manfort’s first court appearance.)
HuffPost has tried to find out more about the business. We’ve searched Florida business records, Fort Lauderdale tax records, poked around job boards and checked the transcript of Manafort’s hearing to make sure we didn’t miss any clues. But so far, we’ve come up short. (Do you know more? Email email@example.com.)
Beyond the name of the company, the extent of Manafort’s role is unclear. Getting involved with a tech company seems like an odd career move for the 68-year-old lobbyist. But a look at his recent history sheds some light on why he might be intrigued by a business opportunity in secure tech.
Manafort reportedly used “bond007” as a password for online accounts. His daughter’s text messages were hacked and released on the dark web. Those text messages revealed that Manafort reportedly claimed he had been hacked. “Russians literally hack his phones,” she wrote in one 2015 text.
The special counsel also alleged that Manafort registered a cell phone under an alias in March and used it on trips overseas, but Manafort’s legal team said that his use of his brother’s name was “blown out of proportion” and that he was just “attempting to maintain confidentiality of communications” given the “high-profile nature” of some of his clients.
“Indeed, it is common practice for many U.S. citizens who travel abroad on business and pleasure to defend themselves against potential hacking, and confiscation, of their electronic devices and data,” his attorneys wrote.
Manafort claims Florida as his home state, and owns a property in Palm Beach Gardens, which is about an hour north of Fort Lauderdale, where the company is apparently based. (Manafort’s team offered up that Palm Beach Gardens home up as part of a bail package, claiming it is worth about $1.5 million. The government says it’s more like $1.25 million.)
According to a Miami-Herald report, Fort Lauderdale was named second on a CBRE Group list of “tech talent momentum markets,” which is meant to measure changes in tech job growth.
Additional reporting by Ashley Feinberg.
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter, covering criminal justice, federal law enforcement and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Signal at 202-527-9261.