As the first investigation by the team of special counsel Robert Mueller to reach trial, the case of Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s one-time presidential campaign manager, has generated copious quantities of press coverage. Manafort’s trademark as a political operative (and as a spender) was his audacity, and, no surprise, the press focused on his lawyer’s audacious position on day one of the trial, which could be summarized as Don’t blame Manafort! He didn’t know what his subordinate was doing with his financial matters. Manafort’s lawyer maintained his client wasn’t responsible for the series of maneuvers that led to felony charges of bank fraud and tax evasion, as well as other alleged financial chicanery committed in the service of laundering the millions Manafort received for his political consulting for Ukrainian oligarchs.
Then, of course, there was the revelation of Manafort’s $15,000 ostrich jacket, a largely extraneous detail that lit up social media, and which could become the epitome-of-modern-excess equivalent of Dennis Kozlowski’s $6,000 shower curtain, back in the days when corporate scandals from the likes of Tyco and Enron dominated the news.
But in this special extra for “Trump, Inc.,” Andrea Bernstein of WNYC and Franklin Foer of The Atlantic, both of whom have reported extensively on Manafort in the past and are attending parts of the trial, dissect the first day along with WNYC’s Ilya Marritz, producing insights and observations. For starters, Foer notes that the premise of Manafort’s defense — that his subordinate Rick Gates operated outside of Manafort’s knowledge and is responsible for any financial misreporting that may have occurred — doesn’t square with the Manafort revealed by Foer’s past reporting: a micro-manager, closely immersed in the details, whose business at the relevant time had shrunk down to a two-person operation. Indeed, in Foer’s telling, Gates was nearly a son to Manafort — hardly the portrait of a schemer, sabotaging his boss from the shadows.
In their conversation with Marritz, Bernstein and Foer delve into many questions raised, but not yet answered, by the trial: What role, if any, will be played by Konstantin Kilimnik, a top Manafort aide alleged by Mueller to have been an active Russian agent? And then there’s the mysterious Chicago banker whose loan officers considered Manafort’s finances too dodgy to justify a loan — who then lent Manafort a sum equal to 22 percent of his bank’s equity and was rewarded with a role as an economic adviser to the Trump campaign. (Both the banker and Kilimnik have denied wrongdoing.)
The trial has been widely billed as not being related to alleged collusion with Russia. Still, the early glimmers provided and analyzed by Bernstein, Foer and Marritz suggest that the trial should be a tantalizing show in itself.
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