Broadcast 8/9/2016 at 15:46:29
The Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show Podcast
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K Riva Levinson, lobbyist and author of Choosing the Hero, my improbably journey and the rise of Africa's First Woman President, formerly a strategist and international field operative for BMS&K, Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. Paul Manafort is Donald Trump's campaign manager, with a reputation for doing cosmetic clean-up for some of the worst people in the world.
VERY ROUGH, incomplete Interview Notes-- provided to entice you to actually listen to the audio interview
Rob: you're on your own now?
I worked for Paul Manafort shortly out of college. for ten years.
Rob: You start off early in your book relating a trip to meet with a horrible dictator, Barre, Mighty Mouth, in Mogadishu.
Rob: you ended up helping to get els
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was at the UN in exile from Liberia-- waiting to return home to fight warlords in control of the country, in 1996.
She hired me to work on her very first campaign, in 1997.
The story of Choosing the hero tells the story of my life intersecting with Ellen Sirleaf.
Rob: Tell us about the title
tells my story, spending nearly three decades as wife, mother and
The second part is the intersection of my life with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who when she decided in 1997 to return home to challenge warlords-- had nothing-- life was under threat.
Three tries, she was able to emerge from a contested election
the metaphor we go through to find someone to believe in.
Rob: why did you believe in her
At Manafort's BMS&K there were things that made me question"
Meeting her captivated me.
Rob: You say in your book that working for Manafort's organization is like playing one big game of Straego: building armies and scheming to take over the world. You relate how Manafort uses a source who has a reputation as an arms dealer who uses sales proceeds to fund candidates in another country. You characterize Manafort as arrogant, narcissistic, egotistical, brilliant-- that you can handle that, but it's his mercenary attitude that puts you at odds.
In the midst of those early conversations, I tell Paul I have to believe in what I'm doing, and Paul tells me that will be my downfall in the business.
He's a master strategist- someone who can hover above all of the moving parts and know what has to happen. He can project out 3, 6 12 months".
There were a lot of things that I did not agree with in Paul. I was hired off the street without political connections. He gave me that opportunity. I'm always going to be grateful to that, so, without that I wouldn't be able to be running.
Rob: can you give any examples of Manaforts abilities.
It's the second term of the Reagan administration and we're beginning to see the fall of the Soviet Union. And you see political parties that want to be aligned with the United states.
BBMS&K was one of the first bi-partisan lobbying firms. In Angola, in the late 80s and early 90s when the Reagan admin identified freedom fighters around the world.
One of those groups was UNEEDA in Angola, so
Paul was able to build
Rob: Manafort works for money
there were many partners. People also worked for the ability to have impact and to be in play and to influence policy and changes around the world. A lot of it was about having influence and power. When the world is changing every day and people are trying to figure out"
Rob: I'm still not clear what Manafort's role was with Uneeda in Angola.
Reagan was looking to support freedom fighters around the world that could challenge Russia.
Remember the support of the mujahadeen in Afghanistan.
In Angola there were Cuban troops at the behest of Russia.
Manafort was able to get the Angolan freedom fighters recognized by the Reagan admin.
Rob: Manafort has a reputation as a cleanup expert for bad guys.
In choosing the Hero, I am meeting with Theodoro Obeyon had won a not credible election. I realized I was sitting on the wrong side of the table (not with Sirleaf)
My job was to work in Washington to create the conditions to support African policy for peace.
He plays to win, at all costs, I talk about him demanding absolute loyalty from people who work for him. I don't know what drives Paul. I do know his style. I know that when he focuses on something you better get out of his way.
Rob: What does it mean being a mercenary?
I understood, at the time, the purpose. There were some decisions that were made that were unsupportable?
There was no value to the mission, no heart or soul.
Rob: Maybe hired you because you said you were willing to go anywhere.
I think he hired me because I was a bit fearless at 25 years old. Remember, at the time, there were no cell phones. Once I went to those places I was on my own. All you have is your wit, your courage and your ability to figure things out on your own.
Rob: Like a rose with thorns-- the gift Manafort gave you.
The late eighties and nineties was quite a time.
I was a UN observer, in South Africa for a month and witnessed the first all race election and witnessed the election of Nelson Mandela.
I was there to witness the first free and fair election in Nicaragua.
Ten years working for Manafort was tough and challenging but they were great assignment.
Rob: KRL International--
a small shop, about 7 people here and advisors in different parts of the world. We've worked with the LIberian president since she was elected. Liberia is one of the largest recipients of
Discusses Ebola overwhelming LIberia-- people called it the walking dead. We were able through congress and the administration to eventually sound the alarm in LIberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, so it's been eradicated.
Rob: you're my first lobbyist.
Rob: Are there are many women in your shoes in the world of lobbying? It seems that there are not many women who have walked in your footsteps.
My agent asked who would have wanted to?
Rob: did you want to?
I wanted to.
The book takes an interesting turn when I convoy into Baghdad. I did that because I was assigned to a project before 911. March of 2003 I convoy into Baghdad. I wanted to witness that time in history.
It was pretty harrowing.
Rob: Were you a mother then?
I was. At the time my daughter was eight and my sone was six.
Rob: What did your family say about these trips.
Nobody knew about how scary things were until my family read the book.
My husband Jeff understood that I was driven by what I did.
I went in with an NBC crew. I went in with the media. Operation Iraqi freedom was in March of 2003. My convoy, from Kuwait was in May.
Rob: that was a pretty crazy time.
Iraq was a pretty decisive moment for the Bush admin, in terms of deciding to stabilize Africa.
there was De-Baathification,
In LIberia you have the US embassy evacuated for the 12th or 13th time because of warlords. You have humanitarian concerns that are the worse in the world.
That was the first time US forces returned to the continent since Blackhawk down-- in 1992-93.
In 2003 when the US went into LIberia to stabilize, it was the first time in ten years
In 1997 Warlord, Charles Taylor, turned the area into a war zone.
The entire subregion fell into chaos when I was working with Ellen.
Eventually, working in Washington, for funding, getting NGOs and media to come and pay attention, even supporting efforts to put the political leaders together so they had a path to move forward that others could recognize.
A lot of members of congress and staff helped.
Rob: Why did you leave Manafort.
After ten years we ended being bought by a public relations firm Burston Marsteller, and Manafort and a few others left to start their own company. And Charlie Black also left. I chose to go with Charlie. I didn't want to go w ith clients I couldn't support. So I worked with Charlie Black at a much larger institution.
Rob: I'm interested in lobbyists. It seems like there are some who are nefarious
There are people who choose to be in lobbying because they want to be in play. They choose a side.
I see KRL we get involved not to be in play, but to have the impact on the project and care a lot about the causes that we take on. I don't think there's anything wrong with deciding to choose a side, whether you're an activist or lobbyist.
Look at the industry and the impact that the people have. If you lobby for a political project or for a government, there's a law that requires that you full disclose who you are working for". money you make, client. There's very little left in the closet.
Rob: Is that really complied with.
Rob: You're not going to persuade me that there are not bad guys in the lobbying world.
It's the projects you choose to work for.
You end up being defined by the clients you take and what you do for the clients. Relationships have to be based on integrity or they can't be maintained.
Rob: What about Manafort.
his legacy is being defined the clients he took.
Press is focusing on what Manafort did in Ukraine and Russia.
Rob: What are they saying he's done in Ukraine and Russia.
He worked in Ukraine, and I don't have all of the history in my head, when the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanakovich, refused to cooperate with the people seeking democracy.
Rob: What's involved in cosmetic cleanup of infamous.
We teach, KRL does a seminar on how US diplomacy policy is made,
There's no such thing as smoke and mirrors when you're trying to get support for an issue-- because the information is available.
The idea that you can spruce someone up-- when
If you don't provide an accurate story and don't suggest the challenges as well as the opportunity you lose your chance. I don't believe in putting that kind of flower or perfume on a dictator-- that it's successful. It doesn't happen anymore.
Back in 1985-1995 there was no internet, no cell phones and people didn't travel to these remote places, so it was so much easier to build a picture. You could tell people the story and it was tough to validate it.
In 1997 when warlord Charles Taylor won the election and took the legitimacy of a flawed election to violently rape the country and neighboring country, it took us 2.5 years to get people to go in and investigate. Now it's very difficult. There's no single control of information. you can't say something and people believe it. Anything you say can be challenged.
If that was the case in Liberia then, we could probably have brought peace to the country in a year and half, not the nine years it took.
Information, text, social media, voice have a terrible influence.
Terrorists use that to plan their operations.
In Turkey, people were called to the street to stop the military coup.
The president called the people to the street and said, this is your democracy, you should not allow this to stand. After he said that tens of thousands of people went into the street. That coup was stopped and I think it was a lot because the social media was used by the president to call the people to the street. But the president has also used it to clamp down on"
The idea that social media was used to stop a military coup
Any last words?
Pick up Choosing the Hero-- as a good summer read.
Rob: Your book gave me chills
Rob: Ever think about getting in politics.
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