What Explains Trump’s Focus on Manafort?

As I noted yesterday on Twitter, the transcript of NYT’s interview with Donald Trump reads like this:

collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion collusion

23 times Trump either denied any evidence of collusion between his campaign and Russia or alleged collusion between Hillary and … I’m not entirely clear who she was supposed to have colluded with.

Whatever else this interview was, it was also a testament to Trump’s continued obsession with trying to deny any guilt.

Which is why I’m so interested in both the form and the singular focus on Trump’s denial of Paul Manafort.

SCHMIDT: What’s your expectation on Mueller? When do you —

TRUMP: I have no expectation. I can only tell you that there is absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it. And you know who knows it better than anybody? The Democrats. They walk around blinking at each other.

SCHMIDT: But when do you think he’ll be done in regards to you —

TRUMP: I don’t know.

SCHMIDT: But does that bother you?

TRUMP: No, it doesn’t bother me because I hope that he’s going to be fair. I think that he’s going to be fair. And based on that [inaudible]. There’s been no collusion. But I think he’s going to be fair. And if he’s fair — because everybody knows the answer already, Michael. I want you to treat me fairly. O.K.?

SCHMIDT: Believe me. This is —

TRUMP: Everybody knows the answer already. There was no collusion. None whatsoever.


TRUMP: Maybe I’ll just say a little bit of a [inaudible]. I’ve always found Paul Manafort to be a very nice man. And I found him to be an honorable person. Paul only worked for me for a few months. Paul worked for Ronald Reagan. His firm worked for John McCain, worked for Bob Dole, worked for many Republicans for far longer than he worked for me. And you’re talking about what Paul was many years ago before I ever heard of him. He worked for me for — what was it, three and a half months?

SCHMIDT: A very short period of time.

TRUMP: Three and a half months. [Inaudible] So, that’s that. Let’s just say — I think that Bob Mueller will be fair, and everybody knows that there was no collusion.

The interview started with a discussion of Jeff Sessions’ recusal, which led Trump to claim he won because he campaigned better than Hillary, but then Mike Schmidt returned to Russia, which returned Trump to his “no collusion” line.

Then Schmidt permits Trump to go off the record about … something. Then the interview goes back on the record with Trump apparently deciding to offer up details after all. He offers the following defense of Manafort:

  • He’s a nice, honorable man
  • Manafort worked for other Republicans too
  • Manafort didn’t work (on the campaign) for Trump long at all
  • Trump never heard of the man who lived in Trump Tower and had had a firm with Trump’s buddy Roger Stone

Having already had two people flip on him and agree to cooperate with prosecutors, Trump starts by flattering Manafort. He rightly reminds that Manafort has long been tolerated in the Republican party, even after Manafort’s fondness for working with thugs became widely known.

Trump then dismisses any Manafort taint based on time associated with the campaign (three and a half key months of the campaign, during the period when Russians were reaching out to provide dirt), not based on his actions for the campaign.

Finally, by falsely claiming he didn’t know Manafort, Trump absolves himself of any prior taint the lobbyist had.

As I said, I’m interested in this passage not just for Trump’s lame attempt at defending himself, but also that he did so. It’s only Manafort Trump feels the need to defend himself against, not Flynn (whom Trump reportedly is preparing to accuse of lying), not Papadopoulos, and not even Rick Gates (who, after all, hung around the campaign through the transition).

The Daily Beast did do an uninteresting piece suggesting Mueller’s team may get a superseding indictment against Manafort, but it doesn’t even imagine Mueller getting to the guts of the case, perhaps by indicting Manafort based on his ongoing reporting on the campaign to Oleg Deripaska via Konstantin Kilimnik, the latter of whom also served as a go-between in an effort to help Manafort write a self-defensive op-ed. Instead, it imagines only that Manafort will get a superseding indictment on tax charges.

Alternately, Schmidt may have said something during that off the record section that directly raised Manafort. Schmidt’s regular beat is the FBI, not Mar a Lago, so he may know something far more interesting than the Daily Beast does about where Mueller is going.

Whatever the reason, Trump seems far more worried about damage Manafort can do to him right now than any damage Flynn can.

35 replies
  1. Willis Warren says:

    Manafort is the key to the RNC. If Trump loses him, he loses congressional protection. Manafort had “RNC” on the tower notes. I’ve got a feeling that this points closer to that and may tie in your data analytics analysis

      • matt says:

        That makes sense- Koch bros. father built refineries (made the family fortune) in Stalinist Russia.  Probably the sons still have connections there.  Can you recommend some sources that tie the Kochs into the Russia/Flynn grand IP3 plan?  I would like to connect those dots.

  2. pseudonymous in nc says:

    One hypothesis: Manafort, as a Tower condo resident since 2006, is familiar with the magical transformation of dirty foreign money into property. TV Lawyer Sekulow has said that taking the investigation into financial stuff is beyond Mueller’s remit.

    The valuation of Manafort’s condo has also been under question during the bail hearings, and I suppose that has repercussions for the surrounding properties.

    I can well imagine the Idiot not knowing what his senior campaign staff were up to, but Manafort is tied to a decade of “a lot of money pouring in from Russia” to the Family Business.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      Perhaps the other side of that is Josh Marshall’s speculation (drawing on the Sater / Bayrock / SoHo stuff in the 00s, and the Sater / Cohen / Artemenko / Manafort stuff in January) that the Family Business helped the FBI out from time to time on some of the “money pouring in from Russia” in exchange for a pass on other money coming in from Russia and ex-USSR sources.


      There could be a solid connection, or it could simply be operating in parallel: if Manafort can be indicted for laundering dirty money through LLCs and real estate, then…

  3. dalloway says:

    The Manafort indictment references $75 million in laundered money, but only details where about $22 million went. In the summer of 2016, Drumpf made a big show of “forgiving” a $50 million “loan” to his campaign. I’d bet the money came from Russia, was laundered by Manafort and went straight into Drumpf’s pocket to reimburse him for the $50 million he’d supposedly spent on his presidential run. Remember, Drumpf is cosmically greedy and won’t even use his own money for charity (tax deductible) when he can use other people’s. Do we really think he financed his own campaign? Or that there wasn’t a massive payoff to Drumpf from Putin for damaging, if not defeating Clinton, whom Putin reviles? Maybe that’s one reason why Mueller filed multiple counts against Manafort (possibly with more to come) and maybe why there was the famous “no-knock” raid on Manafort’s apartment, where the proof of this may have been in Manafort’s financial records. Flynn may outline elements of the conspiracy for Mueller, but Manafort may be the only conspirator who can provide a smoking gun.

  4. Rapier says:

    First a niggle. The inaudible is surely just one or two words and only off the record because he was not asked to repeat them. That’s how I see it.

    As to why obsess about Manafort and collusion? That I think is just a typical example of how he speaks and so thinks. That being in extremely narrow confines of words and ideas, at any given moment, at least when in public. He went in with Manafort and collusion in mind so that is what came out.

    Admittedly this is a rather bad and maybe dangerous sort of analysis. Then again any discussion of motive, of anyone at any time, is a wild goose chase. Even when someone tells us their motive, that doesn’t make it true. They could be lying. Peoples motives are complex at any moment and then there is often no ‘motive’ at all. We typically act spontaneously. No conscious motive beyond, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Whatever it was.

  5. Jim White says:

    So Papadopoulos pops up again today in the New York Times. Lots of really good dirt on him there, but I’m stuck now on trying to figure out how such a low level figure managed to set up a Trump meeting with the Egyptian President. The Times reveals that he set it up but doesn’t say anything about just how he did it. I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually learn that Flynn did the heavy lifting on this while letting Papa take the credit. Recall that Flynn was working el-Sisi on the nuke deal.

    • matt says:

      Perfect that a “coffee boy” do the administrative hum-drum in a grand scheme-  Keeps Flynn away from business that he knew he was not allowed to do.  I would guess Mifsud had the influence and power to “suggest” people for positions (like Papa) and to suggest high level meetings related to Big Energy contract deals, because he represented Maltese banking interests/investors (also tied with Putin and Trump) who were salivating to get in on the ground floor of IP3 related projects.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Papa seems underwhelmingly qualified, despite fancying himself charismatic, knowledgeable and persuasive.  My read on his surprising success, despite his meager experience and qualifications, is that he was being used by other players, mostly with Russian connections, as their conduit to the Trump campaign.  Their network and efforts put meetings together.

      My question continues to be why Trump and so many people on his team wanted to set up secret meetings between him and wealthy Russians, let alone Vladimir Putin.  The attempts were controversial, to say the least.  They threatened, with the tiniest mistake, to be seriously illegal and their exposure would have sunk even the strongest Republican’s presidential candidacy.

      The answer might be as simple as Deep Throat’s purported direction to Woodward and Bernstein during their Watergate investigation: follow the money.  With Trump, that would always be the first and best place to start.  Something tells me Mueller’s team knows all about that.

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        Papa seems underwhelmingly qualified, despite fancying himself charismatic, knowledgeable and persuasive. 

        Go back to Julia Ioffe’s profile of Carter Page, which postulated that he might be some kind of intelligence asset, or a bumbling bullshitting chancer remembered only for how mediocre he was, and it was impossible to tell either way.

        There’s something about “energy analysts” and “oil & gas consultants” that seems to throw up both, perhaps even at the same time, so I wonder if veteran pols and/or diplomats like Alexander Downer are inclined to assume that young “energy analysts” like P. are spooks until proven otherwise.

        I wish we had a better sense of how Brewster Jennings & Associates operated.

  6. Peterr says:

    Trump catches himself in a simple box, because he cannot admit wrongdoing, ever. Thus, each of Marcy’s four items listed above makes complete sense.

    1. Trump hired Manafort, so Manafort must be “a nice, honorable man.” He can’t admit to making hiring a jerk, a crook, or any other kind of hiring mistake. (See also Trump’s repeated descriptions of “Flynn, Michael”.)

    2. Manafort paraded his GOP pedigree to Trump when he was hired, so if hiring him was a mistake, it’s because of the mistakes done by others. “Don’t blame me for hiring him – blame the Establishment Republicans. Yet another reason not to trust them.”

    3. Manafort obviously did something wrong, so Trump obviously couldn’t have hired him to a significant position. “He always got me my McDonald’s when we were on the road.”

    4. Denial is a helluva drug, and Trump’s been doing it successfully for decades. Why stop now?

    • bell says:

      regarding denial, do you seriously think trump has some special lock hold on this characteristic? it’s a deeply ingrained american trait, demonstrated by all of it’s politicians..

      no accountability whatsoever, and no doubt this investigation will result in the same thing.. it was different when nixon was caught, but it required an ellsberg.. no one around like that anymore and everyone knows the wapo, nyt and wsj would be the last place they would be given a voice if there ever was one to speak truth to all the denial going on at present…

      • Peterr says:

        Am I saying he’s alone in this? Hardly.

        But I have never seen a national politician so completely enthralled with his self-perception of brilliance and inability to ever have had made a mistake. Most politicians will admit to having goofed, even as they try to cover them or avoid the consequences, but Trump is in a class by himself when it comes to advancing the Dogma of Presidential Infallibility.

        No, strike that.

        For Trump, it’s the Dogma of Trumpian Infallibility, because no other president has come close to being as perfect as Trump believes himself to be, facts be damned. From his claims of crowd sizes and documentably false claims about signing a record number of bills into law, to his bizarre refrain of “no collusion,” Trump is in a class by himself.

        [Riddle me this: why is it that when so many of the Trump appointees and nominees (like Kushner and Sessions and others) had to revise their SF-86s, it was to include contacts with Russian after Russian after Russian? Not Germans or Australians or Egyptians or Peruvians, but Russians.]

        • bell says:

          i agree with you about trump.. the guy is probably the biggest egotist in a long line of big egos that are the type to even consider running for president of the usa.. yeah – he would be willing to believe in his invincibility and all the rest of it that everyone is seeing him demonstrate.. for me – he epitomizes everything that is wrong with the usa political system.. i think he is the perfect guy that motivates the usa to consider going on a completely different track then the one they have been stuck on since after ww2 – that being – support for the financial, military and energy complex agenda while negating pretty much everything else to do with making the world a better place.

          as for your question, i don’t know, but i suspect the cold war koolaid that everyone seems to have swallowed, not to mention the financial and etc sanctions that have been coming fast and furious for the past 3 years approx, might have created an atmosphere where making any liaison with a russian was considered tantamount to treason… i don’t know how it works with security clearance in the usa, other then the usa became a very different country after 9-11.. geez, come to think of it – some of the story tellers ought to figure out a way that they can blame russia for 9-11 too… definitely can’t involve the usa’s closest friends – ksa or israel – can it?

          but i digress… lets stay focused on any morsel that has to do with a possible connection to that sleazy trump guy with a russian, whether it be flynn getting an okay for israel, or whatever.. this whole russia stole the election is ridiculous, especially in light of how many elections the usa has meddled or upended over the years.. oh – but lets not consider any of that… usa has to look out, not in..

          • matt says:

            We should all start thinking about “what’s next” for international relations and energy policy… after the fall of Trump.

  7. Bay State Librul says:

    Our trusty reporter from Worcester, Mass, believes that Don the Con is suffering from dementia (Charlie Pierce might know the symptoms since he witnessed his father gradual demise, and wrote a book about it).
    Donnie’s physical is scheduled for January 12th, I believe. Not sure they would release any information.
    This is surely speculative but it could explain his crazy antics.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Trump’s and his campaign’s secret Russian focus was planful and intentional.  It was a priority from the top, despite its high risks of criminality and damaging politics.  They acted upon it knowingly and consistently, and everyone who knew about it knew they needed to lie about it.

      The obvious explanation for the latter is guilty knowledge, combined with a surreal belief that the Don would get them out of any trouble later.  That demonstrates the cult-like status of his campaign, because anyone who had ever done business with Don – employee, contractor, customer, supplier, creditor, bankruptcy court – would have known that Don repeatedly makes grandiose promises and keeps them about as well as the US keeps its treaty promises to Native Americans.

    • matt says:

      BSL, you’d think Bratty Bad-Hair would lay off the Big Mac’s – I guess he didn’t see “Super-size Me.”

      Not speculative at all…  his diet is a recipe for both neuro-degenerative and heart disease.  Let’s hope he stays around long enough to see his ship sink.

    • Valley girl says:

      I am convinced that Trump is suffering from Alzheimers dementia.  Trump’s father had Alzheimers, and it is heritable.  I’ve been watching Trump’s behavior via the internet for quite a while.  My dad died of Alzheimers, so I recognize it.  Though not all patients behave the same. Plus, there’s the extra goody that Trump is an extreme narcissist.  Top-tier.  I’ve read a lot about narcissists- my mother was one.

      I’ll include only one link here, otherwise my comment will get ditched, but it does include a link to the recent Charlie Pierce Esquire piece.


      • SC says:

        I agree. Trump’s strategy for coping with interviews–nicely outlined in the Pierce piece you mention–is very similar to my experience of friends and relatives in early Alzheimer’s. I think he knows what day it is, who his children are, and how to dress himself but . . . everyone else I’ve known who had symptoms similar to those that show up in Trump’s NYT interview was completely lost a year or two later.

  8. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Did Awans flip? Was that leaked to potus?


    Daily Caller reporter Luke Rosiak discovered Thursday that the Awan brothers’ next court date, scheduled for January 8th, 2018, disappeared from the calendar.


    …A tech manager said he was too busy with other matters to chase down leads, the FBI’s calls weren’t returned, …

    And g(imran awan cia)

    No, it is not that CIA, but maybe money laundering op. Car dealership with few or no cars.

  9. bell says:

    i get a kick out of the comments! ‘idiot’, ‘denial’, ‘planned from the start’ etc. etc…

    i guess planning the next middle east installment to help israel is never ‘planned’ beforehand, not to mention anything to do with saudi arabia money and on and on..  the comments here are just so surreal, i have to stick around!!

    one shoe for one political group, but another one for another.. the usa system is rotting from within, but do keep it partisan 24/7!


  10. Willis Warren says:

    So, the idea that Misfud just grabbed Papadope and said, hey, we can help doesn’t wash for me. I’m thinking this is a convenient narrative that could be hiding a bigger conspiracy.

    And, Matt, if I could tie the Koch network to the Russian conspiracy I’d spend the rest of my life on a beach and snapping my fingers. There’s definitely an overlap between the Kochs’ agenda and the Russians’ agenda, but that’s more or less ideological coincidence.

    • matt says:

      OK, thanks.  Maybe all the Koch’s wanted was the Tax Bill  (is that why their boy Paul Ryan is hinting he will leave congress at the height of his powers?)… Oh God, please tell me they are not going to run him for president in ’20 or ’24. Or, maybe a Pence/Ryan ticket?

      • Willis Warren says:

        Ryan is actually not a Koch sucker.  He’s more of a Randroid dipshit who has the same goals as the Kochs, a useful idiot if you will.  I think he’s getting out of politics because he knows the RNC, and not just Trump’s team, helped the Russians in some way with the data delivery targeting.

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      the idea that Misfud just grabbed Papadope and said, hey, we can help doesn’t wash for me. 

      Me neither. I’m guessing that P. has a Greek passport by descent to go with his US one, which meant he didn’t need a visa to start work at the London Institute of Something Or Other Studies as soon as he was laid off by the Ben Carson campaign. But that doesn’t explain how he ended up there with a bespoke “director” title. Maybe he bought himself into the job, as he seems to have a fairly jetset life, but if so, where did (and does) he get his money? There are parallels with Carter Page, whose original PhD examiners were nudged aside for new ones who eventually approved his thesis, and it feels like we’ve only scratched the surface of that world of “superficially plausible academia” for people in the energy sector.

      • matt says:

        “if so, where did (and does) he get his money?”

        Papa may be connected with “Greektown,” Chicago elites and their wider network of elites back in Cyprus and Greece. His peculiar grouping of international contacts between Cyprus, Greece, and Israel can mean only one thing- that he was a “horse in the race” to promote the East-Mediterranean Gas Pipeline.  Mifsud put-in a bet too for Malta and Italy when he helped Papadopoulos.  His backers were probably surprised and delighted when Trump won.  I’m still confused about Russia/Gazprom’s piece in the puzzle- from what I understand their play in Syria gives them a piece of the pie that EU/US did not want them to have.

        This means that Papa in the beginning was just an influence opportunist representing his own agenda… but defeating Hillary was the hurtle for which he (probably) accepted Russian help.

        This is all not so much a conspiracy as it is a race for stake in the Energy future of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.  It doesn’t sound like anyone in the EU/US wanted Russia to have a piece of the pie, but by winning both Syria, and a Trump presidency Putin’s already got what he wanted, regardless of minimal sanctions.


  11. Shoshana says:

    Who knows.

    Maybe it was the story of the Russians planting the flag in the bottom of the Arctic that did it. Them coming back up and stopping to have salads with the French submarine was also a nice touch.

    As Huey said while lying on the steps of the capitol before he passed, it is all pretty much a socony vacuum now. Though I think the real story, the real words, the heartfelt, was, “”Don’t let me die, I have got so much to do.”

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