This just in
. This story is huge.
Pessimist that I am, even I'm
now starting to think that Teflon Don's armor may be developing chinks.
Although the president's defenders are now trying to minimize his importance, Allen Weisselberg is the CFO of the Trump organization. Traditionally, the bookkepper is privy to much of the dirtiest dirt. Weisselber is the guy who actually runs Trump's company, in the day-to-day sense. (On their own, Eric and Donald Jr. couldn't run a Venice Beach sunglass hut.)
If your name is Trump, "CFO" means Completely Fucked Over.
Weisselberg has been talking to investigators in the Cohen case. Unless Weisselberg has lied to preserve his skin -- not an impossible scenario -- he may have already done serious damage.
Has Team Mueller grilled him? If Weisselberg is forced to talk about matters beyond the Cohen case, he can explain why so many Russian crooks have bought units in Trump Tower and other Trump properties. He can explain how those properties are financed. He can explain why Trump's sons privately admitted that all the money was coming from Russia. He can explain (perhaps) why Deutsche Bank keeps doing business with Trump, even though Trump is a notorious deadbeat and even though Trump once tried to fuck over that particular bank.
God bless Barbara Underwood, if she's the one behind this development! I just hope that Weisselberg truly cooperates
(The smear machine will no doubt now focus on Underwood, spreading the traditional tales of pizza and pedophilia.)
On to our main topic...
Did Donald Trump threaten the daughters of Paul Manafort?
Don't scoff at the idea until you've heard my full argument.
Let's begin with Al Franken
. He is the first well-known commentator to give voice to a commonly-felt suspicion:
Manafort knows that if he talks, the Russians will seek retribution,” Franken explained. “Trump knows this too, [my wife] Franni believes. Perhaps, even, he and Putin discussed this in Helsinki.”
I've said it for weeks: Between the polonium and the pardon, Manafort has no reason to flip.
Ask yourself: Why did Donald Trump pick this
moment to go into mob boss mode
on camera? Trump has always functioned like a gangster, but he never before has been this damned obvious
. He denounced John Dean, a man who acted out of principle, as a rat -- then he derided the very concept of pressuring lower-level crooks to testify against the higher-ups.
No political figure in American history has ever lapsed so brazenly into hood-speak
. The story at the other end of that link offers a brilliant comparison of Trump to John Gotti. The author is James A. Gagliano, a former FBI man who is (or was
until recently) a Russiagate skeptic.
They once referred to John Gotti as the “Teflon Don,” because criminal charges never seemed to stick to him. Well the current “Teflon President” appears to share a little bit more than just a moniker with Gotti. They both share a disdain for truth-tellers who testify against them in court.
I once lived with a mob boss. I know mob bosses.
President Trump is acting just like a mob boss. And it should frighten each and every one of us.
What really frightens me is the subtext of Trump's messages about (actually, to
) Paul Manafort.
Why did Donald Trump go out of his way to mention Paul Manafort's "wonderful family"? That's the phrase he used in an instantly-infamous tweet
: "I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family." If I recall correctly, he went out of his way to use similar phrasing in a recent interview.
Since Trump is now doing his Vito Corleone impression on 24/7 basis, any references to Manafort's family inevitably become ominous. Do you remember that scene in Godfather II
in which the Corleones intimidate a witness via a strongly-implied threat to a family member? Life has a habit of imitating art.
Why did Trump speak of that "wonderful family"? Trump does not
socialize with Manafort's wife or children, and Manafort's daughters are not fans of the current president.
As some of you may recall, hackers -- probably Ukrainian, although we cannot be sure -- got into the phones of Paul Manafort's daughters (Jessica and Andrea) and found some embarrassing messages
. Speaking behind the scenes, these women made clear that they are not
In one exchange, daughter Jessica Manafort writes “Im not a trump supporter but i am still proud of dad tho. He is the best at what he does.” Her sister Andrea Manafort responded by referring to their father’s relationship with Trump as “The most dangerous friendship in America,” while in another exchange she called them “a perfect pair” of “power-hungry egomaniacs,” and asserted “the only reason my dad is doing this campaign is for sport. He likes the challenge. It's like an egomaniac's chess game. There's no money motivation.”
Think about it. This is Donald Effing Trump
we're talking about: Would he ever
used a word like "wonderful" to describe someone who has denounced him as an "egomaniac"? The Narcissist-in-chief sees the world in stark terms of "Loves me" vs. "Doesn't love me." In his universe, anyone who says one anti-Trump word is an opponent, and all opponents are to be crushed without mercy.
In one March 2015 exchange that appears to be between the two sisters, Andrea Manafort seems to suggest that their father bore some responsibility for the deaths of protesters at the hands of police loyal to Yanukovych during a monthslong uprising that started in late 2013.
“Don't fool yourself,” Andrea Manafort wrote. “That money we have is blood money.”
In another hacked exchange a few months later with someone else, Andrea Manafort wrote that her father’s “work and payment in Ukraine is legally questionable.”
Do you think that Andrea knows more about her father's entanglements with Putin? I'm quite sure that she does.
Do you think that she would like to tell the world all about this relationship? I'm quite sure that she would.
Do you think that Vladimir Putin (the ultimate power behind Yanukovich) would weep to learn that Andrea Manafort had contracted the same illness that felled Litvinenko? I'm quite sure that he would not.
The rest of the above-linked article deserves a careful reading or re-reading. On one occasion, Paul Manafort and his daughters received threatening messages allegedly written by Serhiy Leshchenko, an anti-Putin member of the Ukrainian parliament. Evidence indicates that Leshchenko was framed by Russian hackers.
Let that sink in. Paul Manafort has already
Keep that fact in mind whenever you hear a teevee pundit speculate about the likelihood of Manafort flipping.
“Dad and Trump are literally living in the same building and mom says they go up and down all day long hanging and plotting together,” Jessica Manafort wrote. “Gross,” Andrea Manafort responded, prompting Jessica Manafort to come to their father’s defense. The son-in-law.
It should be noted that Jessica Manafort is a Hollywood figure
-- a writer and director whose work has impressed no less a figure than Martin Scorcese (who should one day direct Trump: The Movie
, which would functionally be a sequel to Mean Streets
Jessica was married to a man named Jeffrey Yohai, who "has been accused in a lawsuit of defrauding investors." (That's putting it nicely.) He did this in partnership with his father-in-law, Paul Manafort. They were quite the odd couple, since Paul Manafort apparently disliked his son-in-law intensely, at least at first.
Yet within two years, Mr. Yohai, who had a degree in journalism and became a real estate professional only in 2011, was forming shell companies to purchase luxury properties in the Hollywood Hills, worth tens of millions of dollars, which Mr. Manafort would put money into. Mr. Manafort was more than a passive investor; Jessica Manafort told her sister last year that Mr. Yohai had “a contract that says dad and him are 50/50 business partners.”
Andrea thought that Jeffrey was a crook.
“Her hubby is running a Ponzi scheme,” Ms. Manafort wrote. “I’m sure of it.”
There's more about Jeffrey (who is now separated from Jessica) here
In November 2016, one investor filed a lawsuit against Yohai, claiming he was running a ponzi scheme using of dozens of limited liability companies and leveraging his father-in-law’s name to meet famous people. Yohai denied the accusations. But in a deposition for the suit, Yohai could not answer basic questions about Marin West, the California real estate business he allegedly owned alone.
Yohai is married to Jessica Manafort, but the two separated in March. Hacked and posted text messages between Jessica and Andrea Manafort, her sister, exposed Paul Manafort was concerned in 2013 about Yohai’s financial history and opposed the marriage. But after the wedding, he and Yohai went into business together, forming shell companies and investing in luxury properties in Los Angeles.
Just what did Yohai and Manafort get up to? And what, exactly, did Jeffrey tell the FBI and Mueller
Paul Manafort’s ex-son-in-law has cut a plea deal with the Justice Department that requires him to cooperate with other criminal probes, a new report said Thursday.
Yohai has not been told how he will be called on to cooperate as part of his plea agreement, but the two people familiar with the matter told Reuters they considered it a possibility that he would be asked to assist with Mueller’s prosecution of Manafort.
Jeffrey Yohai, who seems to have failed in his impudent bid for glory, is precisely the sort of small fish which prosecutors use to catch big fish.
Despite widespread speculation that the son-in-law would lay a big role in the first Manafort trial, jurors were not favored with a Yohai moment. Huffpo listed him as one of that trial's three missing men
Given earlier reporting that he was cooperating with federal investigators, Yohai’s absence from the prosecution’s witness list in Alexandria is one of the towering mysteries in the case
Yohai, it seems, was part of the outreach to the Banc of California, an institution which did
figure in the trial. The bank was not impressed by Yohai.
Prosecutors also had Seferian read from a May 2016 email he’d written indicating that Yohai had “no experience” flipping the sort of expensive Los Angeles homes he and Manafort planned to buy. Unimpressed with Yohai, the bank looked to Manafort’s assets and income as the primary source of repayment for their loans, and prosecutors allege that Manafort had misrepresented those finances.
The most natural venue for Yohai’s cooperation would have been this Manafort trial, where the alleged bank fraud is at issue. (Manafort has a second trial coming up in D.C., but it will focus on his alleged unregistered lobbying on behalf of foreign governments.) Were the reports of a deal wrong? Is the special counsel’s office saving Yohai’s testimony for something else, perhaps involving Manafort’s foreign activities? Has it lost confidence in Yohai as a witness?
After mulling it over, I can understand -- sort of -- why prosecutors would not want to use Yohai as a witness. He's not a sympathetic figure. Jurors wouldn't have liked him. Lord knows how he would have fared under cross examination.
Still, he could yet figure in a state-level trial against Paul Manafort. Such a trial could occur in either California or NY. I hope to God that those states do the right thing, because everyone knows that Donald Trump is going to make the federal convictions disappear.