Sunday, March 10, 2019

Timelines: A Buried Lede

Image via Irish Examiner.

Here's a peculiar one, brilliantly reported by Christina Willkie at CNBC (but not so well edited, the story is extremely hard to follow), about one of the more purposeless-sounding lies Paul Manafort told prosecutors when he was pretending to cooperate after the first trial, about the origins of a payment of $125,000 that went to one of his lawyers in June 2017.

The money was obtained, it seems, from an old comrade called Laurance Gay who Manafort had put in charge of the Tom Barrack–created superPAC Rebuilding American Now (where he seems to have done exceptionally well, raising $24 million, the best performance of any Trump superPAC, though three quarters of the money came from just four donors—wrestling entrepreneur Linda McMahon for $6 million; Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus for $5 million; Hollywood real estate tycoon Geoffrey Palmer, not previously a well-known donor, though his experience in campaign money laundering goes back to 1991, for another $5 million; and the Arkansas poultry magnate Ronald Cameron, whose experience with campaign money laundering through his "Jesus Fund" is very extensive, for $2 million).

Gay got it from a company, Multi Media Services Corporation, or MMSC, which earned $19 million as the chief ad buyer for the Trump campaign, and whose silent owner turned out to be Tony Fabrizio, another old Manafort associate and the Trump campaign's main pollster, with whose company Gay had a slightly dodgy-sounding relationship:

Not that there's anything self-evidently illegal about this arrangement, Wilkie carefully insists, or any of the rest of the story as far as she knows, but in the same month when MMSC sent that $125,000 to Manafort's lawyer, it also sent reimbursements to Rebuilding America Now amounting to a very round $800,000, thought to be unusual (reimbursements from ad buyers to their clients are entirely normal, but they're normally in very specific amounts, like the $347,505 MMSC returned to Rebuilding America Now in early February 2017, and seven months after the election is an unusually long wait before paying them). And the total $925,000 in unusual payments MMSC made to Rebuilding America Now that June is remarkably similar to the $924,164.03 that Laurance Gay took from Rebuilding America Now in consulting fees and travel expenses in 2017 and 2018.

Although the PAC itself had stopped raising any money and appeared to be doing nothing to justify Gay's $35,000/month salary other than buying the occasional ad on Facebook inviting the public to agree that "Hillary should be behind bars" and "CNN sucks". (To say nothing of the nearly $10 million Gay must have earned in 2016 from Rebuilding America Now through his secret commission split with Tony Fabrizio.) You see what I'm saying?

While Paul Manafort, who had been desperate for money for some time but strangely took no salary for his own six months with the Trump campaign, definitely got some of this money for his lawyers, and lied about it to the Mueller prosecutors, which was one of the things that got them mad enough to end the cooperation agreement, and it was by interviewing Tony Fabrizio that the prosecutors learned the truth. I think Wilkie is trying to tell us that there might have been some illegal payments getting made to somebody in the money laundromat, and Mueller knows all about whatever it was.

But that's not all! That wasn't even the thing that got my attention, which was Fabrizio himself, and had very little to do with money laundering schemes but his activity as a pollster, which has garnered some high and specific praise:

“One of Paul Manafort’s best decisions was hiring Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio to determine how to beat Hillary Clinton,” wrote Roger Stone, a longtime friend of Manafort’s, Trump’s and Fabrizio’s, in his 2017 book, “The Making of a President.”
“In the end, it was the pugnacious and bulldog-like Fabrizio who insisted that the Trump campaign had to expand the map into Wisconsin and Michigan, while doubling down on Pennsylvania,” Stone wrote.
Yes, Roger? The states where Trump's totally unexpected, but razor-thin victories were what enabled him to win the election by an unprecedented margin of minus three million votes? And then,
On March 4, Fabrizio was one of more than 80 members of Trump’s extended political and professional orbits to receive a formal letter from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. In it, Nadler wrote that the committee is investigating “allegations of obstruction of justice, public corruption, and abuses of power” by Trump and those around him.
According to the letter, the documents Nadler’s committee is seeking from Fabrizio include anything related to “discussions or attempts to provide or receive election information, campaign data, or campaign communications with, to, or from foreign entities or individuals in connection with the 2016 U.S. Presidential primary or general elections.”
The letter goes on to say: “this includes, but is not limited to, voter data, polling information, political ad targeting, voter registration rolls, social media data, and campaign or party e-mails.”
My bold. I believe we may be learning that one of the simplest and craziest-sounding hypotheses of the Russian conspiracy—that Manafort got that polling data to Russia in August 2016 to inform their Facebook voter-targeting activities in October, and may in this way have played a decisive role in turning the election around—could not only be true, but also be exactly what Jerry Nadler thinks. Stay tuned.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

No comments: