Donald Trump may be a despicable narcissist, to say the least, but his experience in the tabloid world of New York has made him a master manipulator of the media. His attacks on Steph Curry, Colin Kapernick, and other protesting NFL players has put him in the unlikely position of actually uniting the NFL owner and players in condemnation of Trump and his racist and divisive rhetoric.
While the efforts of Kapernick and others to highlight the racism and inequality in not only the US judicial system but most aspects of US life is laudable in itself, Trump has managed to twist it into a discussion about disrespecting the troops and the flag, taking the cowardly position in the last refuge of the scoundrel that he is.
More importantly, he has managed to totally deflect attention from the stories about Paul Manafort that emerged late last week that further indicated just how deeply the Trump campaign was willing to collude with the Russians. For those not politically involved, I would guess that the Manafort story never even hit their radar and will just become part of Trump’s “Russian hoax” defense down the line.
Just one month after Manafort attended the infamous meeting that Don Jr. had set up with the Russians in the hopes of receiving damaging information from them about Hillary, Manafort offered Oleg Deripaska, a top Russian oligarch closely tied to Putin, “private briefings” on the Trump campaign. Just days later, at the Republican national convention, the Trump campaign demanded its one and only change to the Republican platform and that was to eliminate the language calling for “providing lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine. In summary, in a little over a one month span, you have a meeting where the Russians offer to help the Trump campaign, Manafort offers to privately brief the Russians on the Trump campaign strategy, and the GOP platform gets changed to water down support for Ukraine. You can draw your own conclusions about whether that shows a pattern of collusion.
But then the whole issue of how Manafort even came to be Trump’s campaign manager is rather opaque. To say that Manafort was an interesting choice to lead the Trump campaign is more than just an understatement. After all, the last US Presidential campaign that Manafort had even had any kind of role at all was Bob Dole’s in 1996 and in that campaign where he was simply an adviser. Manafort was basically a lobbyist who specialized in working for the some of the worst foreign leaders imaginable, from Jonas Savimbi to Ferdinand Marcos to Mobutu Sese Seko. Around 2005, Manafort started working for the Russian-backed leader of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, as well as signing a $10 million contract with that very same oligarch to whom he offered private briefings in order to advance Russian interests in Eastern Europe and engage in work that would “greatly benefit the Putin Government.” Admittedly, Manafort’s specialty was making these unpopular leaders and dictators more popular one way or another but that was in environments far different than a US presidential campaign.
Manafort apparently showed up on Trump’s radar screen after a meeting with a Trump confidant and fellow real estate investor, Thomas Barrack. As Josh Marshall notes, the impression that Trump campaign gives is that Barrack pushed Manafort for the job. But the details are sufficiently vague enough to consider the alternate view that Manafort pitched Barrack for help getting the job. That particular viewpoint is supported by the fact that Manafort proposed to do something for Trump that he had apparently never done before in his professional career, that is to work for free. Interestingly, he also expressed an interest in getting engaged in US politics once again, an interesting choice for someone who had primarily worked for overseas client since the Reagan Adminstration.
It’s also quite possible that Trump already had knowledge of Manafort even before Barrack pitched him to the Trump campaign. Manafort was a partner with Roger Stone when Manafort was working with some of those notorious foreign leaders and Stone may have also talked up Manafort. Manafort’s deal with Deripaska in 2005 also coincided with the Trump Organization’s development of Russian and/or Russian-aligned investors in Trump properties with the help of Michael Cohen and Felix Sater. Considering how shady Manafort’s business deals were, it would not be surprising to have Manafort directing potential Russian money-launderers to the Trump Organization, especially as Manafort himself had real estate dealings and eventually an office in Trump Tower. That, however, is pure speculation that Robert Mueller is hopefully investigating.
But Manafort’s clear willingness to collude with the Russians during the campaign along with his interesting and out-of-character choice of working for free brings us to the shocking question raised by former CIA chief of staff Jeremy Bash last week, namely that Manafort and Flynn were actually Russian agents.
Originally, the Trump campaign was solely designed to boost the “Trump” brand. After all, that’s pretty much all that Trump had left. He did not develop real estate any more as he could not get loans from any reputable bank, the exception being DeutscheBank. Duping gullible people into giving him money, for example Trump University, and licensing the “Trump” name along with money laundering was how he continued to make money. His PAC was explicitly told at the start of the primary campaign that “the goal was to get The Donald to poll in double digits and come in second in the delegate count. That was it.” The whole campaign was designed not to win necessarily, but to line Trump’s pockets. So it is no surprise that many of the Trump’s advisers, beyond his family, were there to do the same.
If Manafort was getting paid by Trump, he was surely getting paid by someone. That was his MO and the most likely employer would be Deripaska and the Russians. Manafort was in a monetary dispute with Deripaska when he came to Trump and was rumored to owe the oligarch millions, although Manafort contends he was owed the money. Either way, the Trump campaign offered him an opportunity to clear the debt and it certainly looks like he took it.
In his interview last night with Hillary, Chris Hayes laid out the common theory that there was probably no direct collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Rather, no direct collusion was necessary because they both had the same common interest and that was damaging Clinton as much as possible. But that theory gets harder to hold on to as more and more evidence of contacts and offers of collusion come out. In addition, more evidence mounts that the Russian propaganda efforts may have required more sophisticated targeting than the Russians were capable of. And despite constantly proclaiming that there is nothing wrong with having good relations with Russia, Trump and his campaign have gone to extraordinary lengths, even obstructing justice, to hide the contacts they did have with the Russians and shut down the investigation.
Of course, none of this is being explored in the media today. Instead, we are talking about the NFL and the flag. That does not diminish the importance of what Kapernick was calling attention to. But it speaks to the ability of the mainstream media to still be led by the nose by Trump.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on September 26, 2017.