Monday, April 10, 2017

Lyublyu? I hardly even know you!

Paul Manafort's little place in Palm Beach Gardens, a few minutes away from Mar-a-Lago, or "Mar a Largo" as he called it in his job application memo, purchased in 2007 for just $1.5 million. Image via Virtual Globetrotting.
Oddest example yet of the New York Times "nothing to see here" genre of Trump associate story came out yesterday, by Glenn Thrush, with reporting from Maggie Haberman, to explain in simple terms how one ("former") Trump associate got his short-lived job with the campaign in March 2016:

To Charm Trump, Paul Manafort Sold Himself as an Affordable Outsider

The scoop is a trove of documents—letters and memos—"made available by a former Trump associate" who is, of course, unnamed, set up to show how Manafort totally came out of nowhere to end up running the thing, partly because, as the headline writer emphasizes, he wasn't asking for any salary. That really does sound like Trump, who rarely turns down anything that comes for free, but the rest of it is peculiar.

There's no agreement on who solicited whom—Manafort says the campaign pursued him, while the campaign says it was the other way around, but it looks like it was Manafort, who met with the private equity real estate billionaire Thomas Barrack, a friend both of Trump and Manafort, for "coffee and snacks" at the Montage in Beverly Hills and passed him "two succinct memos" in "five single-spaced pages of punchy talking points" to take back to New York:

He began by telling the candidate he lived on an upper floor of Trump Tower. This was no trivial point: It signaled his wealth and a willingness to work 15-hour days in a building that housed both his lavish apartment and Mr. Trump’s bare-bones campaign. It also meant Mr. Manafort had already put his money — in the form of an apartment purchase — into Mr. Trump’s brand, which meant a lot to the candidate, a transactional developer and politician, aides said.
Remember that. Next time you're applying for a job with a real estate tycoon, buy an apartment in his building. It's the thoughtful little gestures that count. And who better to prepare that elevator pitch for than the person who actually owns your elevator?

Where Manafort and the Trump team agree is that Manafort and Trump never had anything to do with each other until last year, except, well, for exceptions:

“Donald Trump and I had some business in the 1980s but we had no relationship until the Trump campaign called me,” Mr. Manafort, who did not dispute the substance of the documents, wrote in an email forwarded by a spokesman....
Mr. Manafort and Mr. Trump, who were not close until the campaign, had brushed shoulders over the years. In one of his memos Mr. Manafort refers vaguely to work he performed, years ago, to clear noisy airspace over Mr. Trump’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago — which he incorrectly spells “Mar a Largo.”
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, has tried to minimize Mr. Manafort’s relationship with the president.
“There is a fine line between people who want to be part of something that they never had an official role in, and people who actually played a role in either the campaign or transition,” he said, amid a smattering of laughter in the briefing room last month. 
The famous briefing room laughter when Spicey's lie is so outrageous, so universally disbelieved, that he himself breaks character, and then everybody coughs and gets back to their stenography.

Which is all I really wanted to say here: Thrush seems to have let himself get co-opted into becoming a vehicle for the Trump team attempts to detach themselves from Manafort as the Russia investigation begins to re-gather steam, with the suggestion that they "had no relationship" even though their many mutual friends over the past almost 40 years have included not just Mr. Barrack but Roy Cohn and Roger Stone (now understood to have his own Russia connections), Manafort's instructors in the political ratfucking—in the Barrack memos, he reminds Trump of how

as a onetime lobbyist he had adeptly won over rich and powerful business and political leaders, many of them oligarchs or dictators, in Russia, Ukraine, the Philippines and Pakistan.
—sometimes when Trump or his kids were in some or one of those same countries looking for a deal with some of the same folks. It's funny how he seems to have told Trump he worked in Russia while insisting to the rest of us he didn't, until a few weeks ago:
As news of the alleged illegal payments from the pro-Russian Ukrainian regime circulated last August, Manafort released a statement claiming he “never received a single ‘off-the-books cash payment’ as falsely ‘reported’ by The New York Times, nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia.” But the AP now reports that Manafort pitched his secret pro-Putin strategy “to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006.” (Aaron Rupar/Think Progress)
And the denial of his work for the dictatorial Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych (Putin's man in Kiyiv) was as ridiculous as one of Spicey's briefing room gags.

And that reminds me of another weird thing in Thrush's story:

He decided that Mr. Manafort should replace Corey Lewandowski, his campaign manager, in June after a push by Mr. Trump’s adult children and Mr. Kushner. But Mr. Trump thought Mr. Manafort was not tough enough, and he was gone by the fall, replaced by Stephen K. Bannon, who was much more of a raw-rage outsider.
That is not exactly why he got fired, though Trump was calling him "low-energy" at that point (earlier he'd been impressed by Manafort's "tanned, no-hair-out-of-place appearance — telling staffers that his new associate looked much younger than a man in his late 60s"), and Manafort was leaking stuff to the newspapers about how chaotic the team was (hey, who wasn't?). He was fired because his secret payments from Yanukovych couldn't be denied any more and were causing too much trouble at the time when Trump's and his campaign's multiple other connections with Russia were finally starting to become news. (He kept advising Trump, too, and he definitely hasn't moved out of the Dark Tower yet, though I guess Trump doesn't hang out there much himself, as the Tower still doesn't have an attached golf course.)

This is Bush-era access journalism at its worst seducing the reporter into giving them the story they want with an offer of exclusively leaked documents. All the clues you'd need to construct the story for yourself are pretty much there, to be sure, but the story itself isn't, making it read a little like a message in code smuggled our of the Gulag, but Thrush and his editors just shouldn't have allowed themselves to be bamboozled into cooperating with this effort.

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