It Looks Like Trump Is Throwing Over Manafort
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It Looks Like Trump Is Throwing Over Manafort

As Mueller Focuses on the Former Campaign Manager, Trump’s Go-To Smear Sheet Publishes Sex Scandal Story 

David Cay Johnston

Donald Trump went to war Tuesday with his former campaign manager, the global influence peddler and Kremlin-friendly Paul Manafort. We know this because of the top article in today’s National Enquirer, which often acts as an attack dog for Trump and hushes up stories he wants to be kept quiet.

“Trump Advisor Sex Scandal—Paul Manafort’s Sick Affair,” the tawdry tabloid’s headline screamed. “Target in FBI-Russia probe also cheated with a woman half his age!”

The article then described the wealthy lobbyist and paid promoter of vicious dictators as being “rocked by a sleazy sex scandal in which he was caught cheating on his wife—with a hottie younger than his own daughters!”

The supermarket tabloid is published by a long-time Trump associate. David Pecker, the CEO of American Media, which owns the National Enquirer, previously ran another organization, which published Trump Style, a magazine given away free at Trump properties.

The damaging story is itself of no consequence to anyone but the Manafort family and his supposed mistress, who wasn’t named. To most news organizations a rich older man having a mistress is no more news than “commercial jetliner lands safely.”

But the publication in which it appeared, its long relationship to Trump as both protector and attack dog as well as the timing of the piece all point to Trump turning on Manafort, who is 68 years old.

DCReport on TV

David Cay Johnston is scheduled to discuss issues covered in this story tonight (Aug. 9) on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC (10 p.m., EDT). Look for him in the early part of the show.

The tabloid piece also shows how Trump—who denounces news organizations with long reputations for independence, factual accuracy and correcting mistakes—has long allied himself with faux news organizations that publish, or kill, news as he wishes. That strategy has been key to his retaining support among people who wrongly believe Trump is their economic savior, a Christian, an honest businessman and a genius.

The National Enquirer story appeared just hours after The Washington Post broke the news that FBI agents conducted a pre-dawn raid on Manafort’s home in Alexandria, Va.

That July 26 raid was part of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence with the Trump campaign and interference in American elections. Trump has been trying to find a way to fire Mueller, as he did James Comey who as FBI director was investigating the same Trump ties to Vladimir Putin’s Moscow kleptocracy.

Trump insists there was never any Russian influence or even connection despite clear evidence that his family eagerly welcomed Kremlin help when it was offered.

For a year, the Trumps and their spokespeople mocked the idea that any connection existed between the presidential campaign and Russia. That those denials were all lies came out when Donald Trump Jr. released emails that explicitly stated the “Russian government” wanted to help Trump win by providing damaging information in Hillary Clinton. Don Jr. wrote back that he “loved” the idea.

After releasing the emails, Don Jr. lied about who was at the meeting and its contents. Manafort was among those meeting with Putin’s emissaries, a meeting that at least eight people attended at Trump Tower in June 2016.

Instead of calling the FBI when the Russians solicited the Trumps, so that agency could begin a counterintelligence investigation, Don Jr. summoned Manafort and others to meet with the Russian government emissaries.

Trump and Manafort had no known association when, seemingly out of the blue, Manafort took over the Trump campaign on March 29, 2016.  The hiring came after Manafort solicited Trump, saying “I have managed presidential campaigns around the world” and have “avoided the political establishment in Washington since 2005.”

Manafort was closely allied with the pro-Putin government in Ukraine until a popular uprising forced the government’s leader to flee to Russia. Ledgers recovered by investigative reporters, after being tossed into a manmade lake at the palatial Kiev presidential compound, showed Manafort had been paid $24 million to promote the pro-Russian regime.

For months Manafort denied that he was paid tens of millions of dollars to advance the interests of Russia and the now ousted Kiev regime.

Then in late June Manafort belatedly registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent, revealing he had been paid at least $17 million by a pro-Putin political party in Ukraine.

That act signaled that Manafort was trying to limit his civil and criminal liability for acting as a foreign agent without registering. Failure to register can result in prison time and, perhaps more significantly, in being stripped of every asset that can be traced to illicit foreign payments even if that requires taking property that has been gifted to family, friends or mistresses.

In a bipartisan move unusual in recent decades, Congress overwhelmingly passed a bill limiting Trump’s ability to help Russia escape sanctions. Trump signed the bill, but he also denounced it.

The Mueller probe is also looking into other Trump-Russia connections.

In December, First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner, who is now a top White House adviser, tried to arrange to use Russian diplomatic communications gear inside the Russian embassy to secretly contact Moscow during the transition between the election and Inauguration Day. The Trump White House kept this secret until March. It was forthcoming only after learning that American intelligence officials discovered messages about the plan sent to Moscow by Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Trump has repeatedly denigrated American intelligence agencies while praising the Putin regime.

The Trump family effort to secretly communicate directly with Moscow—expecting this would not be picked up by American counter-espionage investigators is now part of Mueller’s investigative portfolio.

The Manafort article published today stands in contrast to a story that the National Enquirer had, but never published, about an affair Trump had with the former Playmate of the Year.

Last fall, less than a week before Election Day, The Wall Street Journal revealed that Pecker’s tabloid had hushed up the story of Trump’s affair with Karen McDougal, the 1998 Playboy Playmate of the Year.

That relationship mirrors what the tabloid reported today about Manafort—rich older married man having sex with a woman younger than a daughter. Trump’s affair with McDougal began after his marriage to Melania Knauss in 2005, the Journal reported.

A contract, reviewed by Journal reporters, gave Pecker’s American Media “exclusive rights to Ms. McDougal’s story forever, but didn’t obligate the company to publish it and allowed the company to transfer those rights. It barred her from telling her story elsewhere. The company said it also would give her monthly columns to write and would put her on magazine covers.”

McDougal was paid $150,000 for her story, which Pecker didn’t publish, the Journal reported. It also did not publish the columns McDougal was supposedly hired to write on health and fitness.

The Journal said McDougal had told friends she had a “consensual romantic relationship” with Trump in 2006.

The newspaper also noted that in the world of tabloids quashing stories by buying up perpetual rights to keep someone from speaking out is known as “catch and kill.”

Pecker’s company issued a statement last year explaining the events—paying McDougal for a promise to never speak about any affair with any married man and for columns it never published, saying it “has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump.”

Yet later Pecker, who was a guest at the Trump-Knauss wedding, made a curious comment that undercut the denial. Referring to McDougal, he said that “once she’s part of the company, then on the outside she can’t be bashing Trump and American Media,” Pecker told the New Yorker.

August 9, 2017