Trump Once Called Manafort a Crook, Now He’s a Martyr

I’ve been in a holding pattern today, just in case the jury in the Manafort case completed their work and delivered their verdicts. I guess that isn’t going to happen on a timetable that’s convenient for me. So, instead of commenting on that trial’s outcome, I’ll just remind you that, however bad you think Manafort is, he’s actually worse.

There’s an interesting aspect to the White House’s spin on this trial that doesn’t get enough attention. In the part of the Steele Dossier that discusses Paul Manafort’s firing, it’s noted that Corey Lewandowski truly hated the man and played a role in his demise. That can’t be ignored when considering the following, but it’s still worth noting that this information was published at all.

On December 4, 2017, Politico Magazine published an advanced excerpt of the forthcoming book Let Trump Be Trump, co-written by Lewandoski and David Bossie. It described how candidate Trump discovered that Manafort had been receiving off-the-books payments from Ukraine’s pro-Russian Party of Regions and their leader Viktor Yanukovych. It began with Manafort inviting Steve Bannon up to his Trump Tower apartment:

Manafort wanted Steve to look at a transcript of a story, yet another one, that a New York Times reporter had sent to him. Bannon read the first three paragraphs and then looked up him.

“Twelve-point-seven-million-dollar payment from Ukraine?”

“How much of this is true?” Bannon asked.

“It’s all lies,” Manafort said. “My lawyers are fighting it.”

“When are they going to run it?” Bannon asked.

“They’re threatening to publish tomorrow.”

“Does Trump know about this?”

“What’s to know? It’s all lies.”

“But if it’s in the paper someone has to give Trump a heads-up, because if it’s in the paper, it’s reality.”

“It was a long time ago,” he added. “I had expenses.”

Bannon knew what he had in his hand.

It was an explosive, Page One story. And even if the story wasn’t true, it was in the fucking New York Times. At the very least it would leave a mark.

Just as Steve had thought, the story ran the next day, August 15, on Page One, above the fold.

“I’ve got a crook running my campaign,” Trump said when he read it.

This article was published about five weeks after Manafort surrendered to the FBI after having been indicted by a grand jury. At the time, the idea was that Manafort was as guilty as he looked, and that he had been fired immediately after Trump realized that he was a crook.

That actually would have been a solid defense. If Trump inadvertently hired someone looking to use him as a way to satisfy a debt approaching twenty million dollars to Putin and Russian mafia-connected oligarch Oleg Derispaska, that could have been an innocent mistake. Saying that they fired him as soon as they learned he was compromised would have been a great way to create some space.

But they didn’t stick to that story, and Trump is out there today singing the praises of Manafort in a way that should qualify as jury tampering. Now we are supposed to believe that Manafort is a good man who is being railroaded.

I can’t get past this turnaround. The special counsel has a record of Manafort offering Derispaska private briefings on the Trump campaign’s inside workings and openly wondering if he can use his position to satisfy his enormous debt. Trump should be completely outraged. Trump’s supporters should be braying for blood.

But they are not. They are defending Manafort and arguing that all the charges are old, trumped up, and have nothing to do with Russian collusion. They could have blamed almost everything on Manafort and, instead, they’re turning him into a martyr.

This behavior makes absolutely no sense if Manafort was a rogue operator. Apparently, he wasn’t one. It’s possible he simply knows too much for them to risk him becoming a cooperating witness.

Lewandowski said that Trump was outraged to learn he had a crook running his campaign. Somewhere along the way, he forgot to stay outraged.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.