By my count, Donald Trump issued six tweets this morning, including the demand that Attorney General Jeff Sessions “stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now” and a reference to a “smocking gun” and the Clinton campaign. Whoops, I see that in the time it took to type this, El Jefe is already on to a fresh tweet in defense of his former campaign manager Paul Manafort. Does Trump ever do any actual work?
Now with Manafort on trial for his exploits in Ukraine, including the accusation that he funneled some $60 million into offshore accounts to evade American taxes, Trump is ventilating his disgust — not at Manafort’s purchase of a coat made out of ostrich for $15,000 (say, what happened to vicuna?), but at the dredging up of what he deems “old charges” that render his trial “a Hoax!” His latest effusion declares: “Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and “Public Enemy Number One,” or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement – although convicted of nothing? Where is the Russian Collusion?”
You might wonder whether comparing and contrasting your old chum to Al Capone is really doing him a solid. There’s also something a little odd about signaling your respect for the old mob boss by calling him “Alfonse,” though it was actually spelled Alphonse. Never mind. For Trump, who has dwelled in the netherworld of New York real estate for decades, it seems to come as a natural impulse to genuflect to oligarchs, past and present. It’s also the case that Manafort is not in solitary confinement. Nor is Alcatraz, where Capone served time, up and running, and ready to receive Manafort. Trump is clearly trying to set the stage, as far as possible, to pull another Arpaio, to depict Manafort as a victim of the deep state whose unjust predicament can only be rectified by a presidential pardon.
But it may never come to that: Judge T.S. Ellis is restraining the prosecutors from dwelling on Manafort’s lavish lifestyle. The judge himself appears to be a model of frugality. He expressed puzzlement about the House of Bijan on Rodeo Drive, where Manafort acquired some of his pricier trinkets, including bespoke suits and watches: “I can’t recognise these names. If it doesn’t say ‘Men’s Wearhouse,’ I don’t know it.”
As Manafort faces trial, Trump’s janissaries are trying to argue that he’s only expressing his opinion, as though he were a mere bystander to these events offering colour commentary. “He’s expressing his opinion, but he’s not talking of his special powers he has” as president, said Rudy Giuliani. Not yet.