Franklin Foer's latest about Paul Manafort is very long but several items pop out right away, starting with the shocking opening sequence about Manafort's time under unspecified medical care in 2015:
The clinic permitted Paul Manafort one 10-minute call each day. And each day, he would use it to ring his wife from Arizona, his voice often soaked in tears. “Apparently he sobs daily,” his daughter Andrea, then 29, texted a friend. During the spring of 2015, Manafort’s life had tipped into a deep trough. A few months earlier, he had intimated to his other daughter, Jessica, that suicide was a possibility. He would “be gone forever,” she texted Andrea.
Less than one year later, on March 29, 2016, Manafort would join the Trump campaign as convention floor manager. He would become chairman of the campaign on May 19, 2016.
I have rearranged the following points from the piece in chronological order.
1. In the spring of 2014, Viktor Yanukovych, Manafort's main meal ticket, Foer says, for nearly a decade, was forced from the presidency of Ukraine. "Fearing for his life," Yanukovych fled to Russia. Manafort "avoided any harm by keeping a careful distance from the enflamed city."
Where that "careful distance" placed Manafort, Foer does not say.
2. After Yanyukovich was overthrown, Manafort suddenly had career problems.
Money, which had always flowed freely to Manafort and which he’d spent more freely still, soon became a problem. After the revolution, Manafort cadged some business from former minions of the ousted president, the ones who hadn’t needed to run for their lives. But he complained about unpaid bills and, at age 66, scoured the world (Hungary, Uganda, Kenya) for fresh clients, hustling without any apparent luck. ...
He seemed unwilling, or perhaps unable, to access his offshore accounts; an FBI investigation scrutinizing his work in Ukraine had begun not long after Yanukovych’s fall. Meanwhile, a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska had been after Manafort to explain what had happened to an $18.9 million investment in a Ukrainian company that Manafort had claimed to have made on his behalf.
3. Manafort had domestic problems, too. In November 2014, Manafort's wife and grown daughters discovered he was conducting an extremely expensive extra-martal affair. Despite pledges, couples counseling, he continued the affair, which came to light again six months later.
4. According to daughter Andrea's text, Manafort was by this time in "the middle of a massive emotional breakdown.” Foer writes that Manafort entered a "clinic" in Arizona six months after the November 2014 initial discovery of the affair, which places his entry time in May 2015 (Foer doesn't specify time or place).
5. At the "clinic," Manafort was allotted the daily ten-minue phone call to phone his wife -- "in tears," he also "threatened suicide."
6. When did Manafort leave the clinic? Foer doesn't tell us. He backs into Manafort's departure from the clinic in the context of the newly discharged patient's reportedly desperate effort to gain entree to Donald Trump.
Foer opens the section this way:
“I really need to get to" Trump, Manafort told an old friend, the real-estate magnate Tom Barrack, in the early months of 2016.
Foer doesn't get more specific about the date of this conversation; however, the distinctive quotation -- "I really need to get to" -- marks its provenance in a Washington Post piece based on interviews with Barrack, who dated his conversation with Manafort to shortly after the Iowa Caucuses, which were on February 1, 2016.
Barrack, a confidante of Trump for some 40 years, had known Manafort even longer. When Manafort asked for Barrack’s help grabbing Trump’s attention, he readily supplied it. Manafort’s spell in the Arizona clinic had ended."
All of this is more than passing strange.
First, about Thomas Barrack Jr., an American billionaire of Syrian extraction. As an Arabic speaking lawyer in 1972, the Washington Post reports, Barrack played some squash with a set of Saudi princes and thus became "the American representative of `the boys.' " No word on whether Barrack registered as a Saudi agent for this work for the Saudi family dictatorship; officially or unofficially, however, he was a good one, given his affinity for the Arab/Islamic world. The Post: "Barrack spent many hours listening to the Arabs discuss their world, which he said gave him `great respect for the society and community.'"
Barrack's "respect" paid off. By 1979, he bought a California ranch -- "just down a hill from Ronald Reagan’s Rancho del Cielo." (Quelle coincidence!) The Post continues: "The Secret Service later boarded horses at Barrack’s ranch, and he occasionally went on trail rides and sat around campfires with Reagan. `I loved him,' Barrack said of Reagan."
That's beautiful. Anyway, back to Manafort, who, by early 2016, the Atlantic sort of tells us, has left suicide watch at the Arizona "clinic." He has debts, he has a Putin-Linked-Oligarch looking for that $19 million he "invested," his family life is chaos, and what does he do? He calls up Barrack after Iowa and says: " `I really need to get to' Trump."
The Post story based on interviews with Barrack tells the story differently.
The Post explains that Manafort and Barrack go back 40 years to Barrack's Saudi-princes-days.They met in Beirut when Manafort "represented a firm doing business with a Saudi construction company." (The Bin Laden Group?) Barrack has known Donald Trump for nearly as long, and depicts himself as a yuge loyalist -- although he is also openly horrified about Trump's politics, including his signature issues of immigration and the Muslim ban.
Gee, something isn't quite adding up here....
Barrack supported Trump’s campaign, and shortly after Trump lost the Iowa caucuses, he reconnected with his old friend Manafort, a longtime Republican consultant.
Barrack "reconnected" with Manafort. The Atlantic has it the other way around.
“I really need to get to” Trump, Manafort said, according to Barrack. He told Barrack he wanted to work as Trump’s convention manager, helping him navigate what they expected would be a contentious affair.
Whoa, wait a minute here. It's early February 2016, and Manafort is telling Barrack he wants to work as "Trump's convention manager" ... at this earliest stage of the primaries ... now that Trump has lost the Iowa Caucuses? This make no sense. I'll bet Deripaska's $19 million this is not the way that initial conversation went.
Then again, maybe it was Barrack who called up Manafort to say: "You really need to get to" Trump, and here's how we're gonna do it ...
The Post story says Barrack next contacted Ivanka and Jared Kushner -- whom Barrack had assisted financially with Kushner's albatross building, 666 Fifth Avenue, naturally -- to talk about Manafort:
Barrack, who had long been friendly with Kushner, as well as Trump’s daughter Ivanka, said he wrote them an email urging Trump to hire Manafort.
The Atlantic story omits this, too.
7. Nonethless, with clairvoyant powers, the Atlantic lays out Manafort's innermost motivations: "With the arrival of Donald Trump, Manafort smelled an opportunity to regain his losses, and to return to relevance."
Sorry to say so, but this is as absurd as Barrack's claim that Manafort told him he wanted to be "convention floor manager" right after Trump lost Iowa. In the early months of 2016 and right on up to Election Day night, Donald Trump was the political equivalent of bubonic plague, refrigerator mold and Hitler in the eyes of tout Washington, including every member of GOPe whom Manafort ever billed or hoped to, all of whom were endlessly predicting Trump's elimination, and/or epic loss in a historic landslide. Any political professional even contemplating a stint on the Trump campaign was immediately threatened with shaming, ex-communication, ostracism, financial ruin, purging, even "epuration sauvage." It seems highly unlikely that Manafort would look at Trump and see Meal Ticket to Big Time -- unless, that is, he left his "clinic" too soon, which is a possibilty.
It seems possible at least that Barrack and then Manafort had other motives besides what may well be a cover story about Barrack helping his dear friend Manafort heal his financial losses and restore his professional bona fides, while simultaneously helping his dear friend Donald become POTUS.
8. Also, Manfort offered his services to Trump for free -- nine long months before Election Day.
9. In the Post piece, Barrack is the author of an email he sent to Ivanka and Jared urging the campaign to hire Manafort. In the Atlantic piece, Barrack's role is no more than conduit of a "memo" Manafort wrote to the Trump team.
Barrack forwarded to Trump’s team a memo Manafort had written [telling] Trump that he had “avoided the political establishment in Washington since 2005,” and [describing] himself as a lifelong enemy of Karl Rove...
To be sure, both men might have sent in pitches for Manafort. Then again, Barrack's email to the Kushners (Post) and Manafort's "memo" to "Trump's team" (Atlantic) may be one and the same document.
In sum, the instigating role of former Saudi "representative" Barrack in the hiring of Manafort, as reported in the Post piece, has disappeared from the Atlantic piece, even as the Atlantic brings forward disturbing new information that may help explain why Manafort might have been tapped for delivery to Team Trump in the first place: In his broken state of mind and career, Manafort was indeed the perfect vehicle for someone else to drive into the campaign.
In other words, after Manafort's 2014 financial crash and 2015 breakdown, this once high-priced Igor to Global Crookdom was shattered goods -- humanly, financially, politically, and legally. He was a ticking time-bomb for any of Trump's political enemies to have tossed inside the Trump camp. Why would Barrack do such a thing to his "old friend" Trump? Paul Manafort, of all people, was not the best choice that a real friend (especially one apparently so well acquainted with Manafort's career) would push onto any presidential candidate.
When Barrack called Manafort in February 2016 some undisclosed period after his "clinic" discharge (might Manafort have been there still?), what was he thinking?
Did he believe Manafort was the best manager to vault Trump (and the anti-Muslim and restrictive immigration policies Barrack and his former Saudi employers despise) into the White House?
Or did he see Manafort, with all of his vulnerabilities, as the perfectly controllable tool to plug into the Trump campaign to run it either into the ground (as he was doing before Trump fired him and hired Banon and Conway), or through the pig pen (as the Special Counsel is still trying to prove)?
As for Manafort, did he really expect to be working so hard for the next nine months for nothing?
Will we ever get these answers -- or will words keep piling up over the real story?