Tolstoy wrote one of literature’s most famous opening lines, in Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The peculiar unhappiness of Paul Manafort’s family life is described in excruciating detail in 285,000 text messages from an iPhone belonging to one of his daughters. The messages were posted by hackers on the darkweb last year and provided several damaging stories about Manafort. He goes on trial today, charged with evading tax on tens of millions of dollars from his work as a political consultant in Ukraine. Now, the texts have been published in their entirety on the ordinary internet, where they can easily be searched and read. Previously, Manafort had confirmed the authenticity of some of the messages to Politico. They appear to reveal the private face of the man who was Donald Trump’s campaign manager. It is not a flattering picture.
One daughter purportedly tells another that their father regularly made their mother have sex with a “room full of men”. (It appears that the texts are reproduced with the same spelling and punctuation as originally written.)
“dad tapes it all”
“Dad is a sex addict”
Yet more bizarrely, it seems both parents shared these painful secrets with their (grown-up) daughters in an attempt to save their marriage.
“he has too many skeletons, he can’t have a public divorce.”
“the issue was he wanted her to WANT to have the group sex and got upset she didn’t”
“Has mom been tested for STDs?”
It is not merely prurient to reproduce these intensely private exchanges. Paul Manafort was no grey functionary fleetingly hired by Trump to run his campaign, as the White House tried to persuade people when he was charged. It always seems wrong to say of Trump that he has “friends,” but Manafort moved in the same social circles, where it appears that group sex, public sex, or just weird sex was not unusual. This may matter because President Trump now faces allegations that a foreign power, Russia, is blackmailing him with sex tapes.
There are different versions of how and when Manafort and Trump first met, but it is a matter of record that Manafort went into business with Trump’s adviser Roger Stone in 1980. Stone, Trump, and Trump’s lawyer Roy Cohn were then fixtures on the bacchanalian Manhattan party scene. Trump spoke about a visit to the notorious nightclub Studio 54. “I would watch well-known supermodels getting screwed on a bench in the middle of the room. There were seven of them and each one was getting screwed by a different guy.” Stone would later be fired from a job working on Bob Dole’s presidential campaign after he – Stone – advertised in a magazine called Local Swing Fever for “exceptional, muscular single men” to have sex with his wife. This foreshadowed Manafort’s own troubles and the stories, none proven, of Trump presiding over strange orgies at Mar-a-Lago or in a Moscow hotel room.
Manafort’s daughters are quoted as saying that the “orgies” their mother was forced to endure took place “in bursts, but in all different countries, she said”.
“which is why she wanted to stop traveling”
“bc it was always part of their visit”
This would undermine Trump’s statement, made after Christopher Steele’s dossier was published, that neither he nor anyone who worked for him would ever be dumb enough to engage in compromising behaviour abroad. He said that he always told his staff: “Be very careful, because in your hotel rooms and no matter where you go you’re going to probably have cameras.”
“Where did he go wrong,” one of the daughters is said to ask about her “fucked up” father.
“mom thinks the power went to his head”
“Right…that it has turned him into a moral-less ethic-less person”
“he is just power crazed…controling. obsessive.”
“He has no moral or legal compass”
The next part of the sisters’ discussion is the basis for one of the damaging stories about Manafort already published using material from the texts.
“You know he has killed people in Ukraine? Knowingly”
“Don’t fool yourself. That money we have is blood money”
They are apparently talking about the claim that Manafort was standing next to the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, egging him on when the order was given to fire on unarmed demonstrators. There is gossip to this effect in Kiev, but no proof. “I don’t advise raising it with him,” one of the daughters’ texts says. “He lies like a rug and gets realllll pissed off. But it’s true. He thinks I don’t remember.”
Manafort is not on trial for this. Instead, he is accused of hiding millions of dollars from the US taxman, the fruits of his very lucrative work in Ukraine. The alleged facts – which he denies – have given rise to a number of terrifying sounding charges: fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, and – a phrase no doubt artfully and deliberately chosen by Robert Mueller – “conspiracy against the United States”.
The judge in the case, T.S. Ellis III, has told Mueller’s prosecutors: “You don’t really care about Mr Manafort’s bank fraud.” All they cared about, the judge went on, was what information Manafort had that might lead to President Trump’s impeachment. President Trump has pointed out – correctly – that all of Manafort’s alleged crimes came before he joined the campaign in 2016.
This is true but Trump’s opponents, including some in the “intelligence community”, say there is a connection between the 2016 race and what happened in Ukraine. Manafort’s millions came from oligarchs in Ukraine loyal to the Kremlin. If he were money laundering and cheating on his taxes, Russian intelligence and ultimately Vladimir Putin would have known. They would have had a powerful hold over him: information that could send him to jail.
This is why some intelligence sources believe that Manafort was deliberately put into the Trump campaign by the Kremlin (taking an unpaid post). It is no coincidence, the sources say, that in a later indictment drawn up by Mueller Manafort is jointly charged with his former translator and business partner in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik. Kilimnik was once an officer in Russia’s military intelligence service, known as the GRU. Trump’s former business partner, Felix Sater, told a Congressional committee: “No such thing as a former Russian spy.”
There is witting cooperation; and unwitting. Even if the Kremlin did seek to manipulate Paul Manafort, it would be a further leap to say he knowingly entered into a conspiracy. It is to get at the truth of this that Mueller’s team has put so much pressure on Manafort. Before he has been convicted, he sits in a Federal jail in Virginia, accused of witness tampering. Still, Manafort has not flipped. He denies any wrongdoing. Perhaps in the end a jury will agree. Maybe he is holding out for a presidential pardon.
The texts may be testimony to the banal truth that everyone saves their worst behaviour for those closest to them. As Hegel once said of Napoleon: “No man is a hero to his valet” – or to his daughters after forcing their mother into deviant sex games. If Manafort had never run Trump’s campaign, perhaps his daughter’s iPhone would never have been hacked. Perhaps the FBI would not have tried to take his fortune away. He must wish he had never met Donald Trump.