All Donald Trump’s Men

Donald Trump claims to fight for the little guy against a rigged system, but the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has turned to political operatives who have scammed money for the rich and powerful, says Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

Right after Barack Obama’s election in 2008, I flew off to Australia and New Zealand to attend a conference and take some vacation time. At the end of the long flight, when I got to Sydney, I picked up one of the local newspapers and read that the President-elect had chosen Rahm Emanuel, poster boy for corporate Democrats and the status quo, to be his chief of staff.

Uh-oh, I thought. If Obama was choosing him to guide his administration, we probably could say goodbye to any dreams of a New Deal-style, aggressive agenda to cure the ills of our country. Emanuel was less the type to Keep Hope Alive and more the guy who holds Hope at arm’s length with a blackjack threatening in the other hand.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

You will know our presidents and presidential candidates by the company they keep. Just as Obama had Rahm and a gaggle of Wall Street Democrats advising him how to step away from the fiscal crisis without putting any of the guilty banksters in jail, so, too, have all our chief executives and nominees had their coteries.

Andrew Jackson had his kitchen cabinet, FDR his Brain Trust, JFK and LBJ their Best and Brightest, Nixon his Palace Guard – even Warren Harding had his poker pals, although that den of thieves reportedly led him to complain to the famous newspaper editor William Allen White, “I can take care of my enemies all right. But my damn friends, my goddamned friends, White, they’re the ones who keep me walking the floor nights!”

And now, here comes Donald Trump, presumptive Republican presidential nominee and thug-in-a-nice-suit. If for some reason you aren’t already appalled by the specter of a con artist occupying the Oval Office, a man who would lie about what he had for breakfast, look to those with whom he has chosen to surround himself.

Start with political dirty trickster and sleaze merchant Roger Stone, the man first introduced to Trump by Joe McCarthy acolyte Roy Cohn. Stone has had a 30-year, on-again, off-again relationship with the candidate and was publicly fired from Trump’s campaign staff last summer but still seems to be an unofficial advisor and mouthpiece.

Then there’s the abrasive campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, best known for that March incident with now former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields who said he roughly grabbed her when she tried to ask Trump a question. A charge of simple battery was dismissed.

But Stone and Lewandowski are small potatoes compared to some of the new hires Trump has brought aboard since he clinched the nomination and expressed the desire to appear more presidential.

Let’s start with Steven Mnuchin, now national finance chairman, chief fundraiser for a man who used to claim his campaign was totally self-financed and that he would not need money from outsiders. Mnuchin is a banker and chief executive of the Dune Capital Management hedge fund – remember, Trump has lashed out at hedge funds, calling them “guys that shift paper around and they get lucky.” He’s also a former Goldman Sachs employee and Trump has gone after Goldman, too, including Hillary Clinton’s association with it.

Among his other accomplishments, The Wall Street Journal reported, with its characteristic wonder at such financial legerdemain, “Mr. Mnuchin turned one of the biggest bank failures ever, IndyMac Bank, into a very lucrative investment for himself and a consortium that included some of the billboard names on Wall Street, including [George] Soros, hedge-fund manager John Paulson, and J. Christopher Flowers.

“IndyMac Bank, based in Pasadena, Calif., collapsed in the summer of 2008 as customers grew concerned about its souring mortgages and withdrew deposits. It was the third-largest bank failure in U.S. history at the time. The group bought IndyMac from the government for about $1.5 billion in early 2009 and eventually sold it to a larger bank for a more than $3 billion gain.”

But at The Nation magazine, Peter Dreier says there’s more to the story: “The FDIC was so desperate to unload IndyMac that Mnuchin and his colleagues were able to obtain, as part of the purchase deal, a so-called ‘shared loss’ agreement from the FDIC which reimbursed these billionaires for much of their costs for foreclosing on people unlucky enough to have mortgages from IndyMac.

“Within a year, the group that the Los Angeles Times called a ‘billionaires’ club of private financiers’ had paid themselves dividends of $1.57 billion. In other words, the FDIC took much of the risk by subsidizing the bank’s troubled assets, while Mnuchin and his colleagues pocketed the profits.”

Dreier notes, “Both Trump and Mnuchin have run businesses accused of widespread racial discrimination, and they both represent the excessive wealth and greed of the billionaire developer and banker class.”

But Mnuchin’s deeds pale compared to Trump’s new campaign chairman and chief strategist Paul Manafort, a longtime veteran of Republican politics, and a poobah of the lobbying industry that has helped make Washington the swell, dysfunctional place it is. Roger Stone was one of his partners in the lobby biz (and it was Roy Cohn who introduced Manafort to Trump, too).

President Reagan meets with publisher Rupert Murdoch, U.S. Information Agency Director Charles Wick, lawyers Roy Cohn and Thomas Bolan in the Oval Office on Jan. 18, 1983. (Photo credit: Reagan presidential library)

President Reagan meets with publisher Rupert Murdoch, U.S. Information Agency Director Charles Wick, lawyers Roy Cohn and Thomas Bolan in the Oval Office on Jan. 18, 1983. (Photo credit: Reagan presidential library)

So was the late, infamous Lee Atwater, the brutal, take-no-prisoners GOP strategist who gave the world the Willie Horton ads attacking Michael Dukakis and slickly dragged the smear and whispering campaign to new lows. (He repented on his deathbed.)

Their company, as described by Franklin Foer at Slate, was “a new style of firm, what K Street would come to call a double-breasted operation. One wing of the shop managed campaigns, electing a generation of Republicans, from Phil Gramm to Arlen Spector. The other wing lobbied the officials they helped to victory on behalf of its corporate clients. Over the course of their early years, they amassed a raft of blue-chip benefactors, including Salomon Brothers and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.” And Donald Trump.

Manafort and his cronies got into trouble during the Reagan years, when, as Foer explains, the firm “hired alumni of the Department of Housing and Urban Development then used those connections to win $43 million in ‘moderate rehabilitation funds’ for a renovation project in Upper Deerfield, New Jersey. Local officials had no interest in the grants, as they considered the shamble of cinder blocks long past the point of repair. The money flowed from HUD regardless, and developers paid Manafort’s firm a $326,000 fee for its handiwork. He later bought a 20 percent share in the project. Two years later, rents doubled without any sign of improvement.

“Conditions remained, in [Washington Post columnist] Mary McGrory’s words, ‘strictly Third World.’ It was such an outrageous scam that congressmen flocked to make a spectacle of it. Manafort calmly took his flaying. ‘You might call it influence-peddling. I call it lobbying,’ he explained in one hearing. ‘That’s a definitional debate.’” You know, potato, potahto…

The scandal barely left a scratch and Manafort’s ambition soon stretched far beyond America’s shores. Steven Rosenfeld at AlterNet notes a new report from the American Bridge 21st Century PAC, funded by Democratic donors and founded by David Brock of Media Matters. It states that Manafort “was responsible for representing some of the world’s most unsavory clients on behalf of what the press called the ‘Torturers’ Lobby.’”

Among those he billed were Lebanese-born arms dealer Abdul Rahman El-Assir, Zaire’s dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, Nigeria’s Sani Abacha, Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi, Somalia’s Said Barre, and Angolan guerilla leader Jonas Savimbi.

“Savimbi and his UNITA army engaged in a decades-long civil war that terrorized and murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians,” the American Bridge report states, “with UNITA engaging in bodily mutilations, sexual slavery, child kidnapping, and witch burning. Savimbi funded his role in the gruesome civil war with proceeds of smuggled diamonds, aid from apartheid South Africa, and aid from the United States.”

Especially cozy was Manafort’s relationship with former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukoyvch. “Some in the West felt Yanukovych could be an ally,” The Washington Post reported, “but ultimately he pursued ties to Russia and fled Ukraine amid violent clashes.”

Manafort was a political and media adviser to Yanukoyvch (as was Bernie Sanders consultant Tad Devine) and set about gilding the image of a man another consultant described as “a kleptocratic goon, a pig who wouldn’t take lipstick.” According to Franklin Foer in Slate, Manafort had the Ukrainian leader rail against NATO to gain political advantage, and when told by US Ambassador William Taylor that what he was doing flew in the face of official American policy “bluntly announced that he wouldn’t ask Yanukoyvch to dial back the rhetoric. It polled too well.”

Clearly, this is the perfect man for Donald Trump. But wait, there’s more. Manafort has brought along some of his other buddies, Ken Vogel and Isaac Arnsdorf of Politico report, “including several whose lobbying histories seem to epitomize the special-interest influence against which the candidate rails.” Among them are Laurance Gay, “who worked with Manafort on an effort to obtain a federal grant that one congressman called a ‘very smelly, sleazy business,’” – that was the aforementioned HUD deal.

There’s also Doug Davenport, “whose firm’s lobbying for an oppressive Southeast Asian regime became a liability for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.” And don’t forget a “former Manafort lobbying partner named Rick Gates, who was identified as an agent of a Ukrainian oligarch in a 2011 racketeering lawsuit that also named Manafort.”

These guys shouldn’t be running a campaign, they should be bumping off jewelry stores or appearing in yet another remake of Oceans 11. They’re much better suited to a heist movie. If you needed further proof of Trump’s hypocrisy when it comes to Wall Street and government, money and politics, look no further than this gang of wheeler-dealers, flim-flam consultants and Washington insiders, the Goodfellas of American politics.

With friends like these…

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This story appeared originally at http://billmoyers.com/story/presumptive-nominees-men/]

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6 comments for “All Donald Trump’s Men

  1. Brad Benson
    May 27, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    I couldn’t read this article to the end. The authors accept the premise that Yanukoyvch was a crook and that somehow his plan to accept a $15 B gift from Russia instead of a $2 B Loan from the EU was a move toward Russia and thus bad for the US Agenda.
    The fact is that the Ukraine had always bought their oil from Russia and the EU was trying to get them to move toward Europe for a $2 B Loan, with winter approaching, and with Russia threatening to cut off their heating oil for non-payment of back bills.

    The United States of America overthrew Yanukoyvch, who was a little oligarch, and installed a bunch of Nazis, instead of waiting a few months for new elections–for which Yanukoyvch had already called. It was a Coup d’état, plain and simple. The propagandist responsible for this hit piece should go to the google machine and type in “Victoria Nuland” or “Yat’s is our guy” or even Ms. Nuland’s most famous comment on the matter, “F*uck the EU” if he wants to understand what happened in the Ukraine.

    However, the author knows all of this and, if he doesn’t, he’s not qualified to write on this subject. Let’s see if he ever does a review of the people on Hillary’s Staff and the people that are supporting her candidacy.

    As for Manafort, he also worked with Bernie Sanders. Perhaps Bernie is suspect too! No doubt it’s a socialist plot.

    Be scared. Be very scared. Trump is coming and we’re all going to die!

    • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
      May 28, 2016 at 12:00 pm

      He works for Consortium News – he already knows all that. Yanukovych was already an ally of Russia – he was just moving away from the E.U and toward Russia due to this. It is true that he was corrupt.

      Before you call me a White House shill, I should tell you that I am opposed to the sanctions on Russia and any Western involvement in the Ukrainian Crisis – it is not our fight, sanctions on Russia hurts the world economy as Russia is an important oil exporter, if we lift the sanctions we could help bring down Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies since they depend on exporting oil to the West and due to the Iran deal their economies have weakened, and we need Russia as a partner in the War on Terror (which I am also opposed to, but if we are fighting the war, we need all the help we can get).

      Also, Trump having those guys as his allies doesn’t mean that he’s going to break his promises. His actions have shown him to be uncontrollable by the Establishment, and before you say that is a ploy to gain votes, the fact that he is doing that shows that he IS uncontrollable, and therefore we can presume he will be sincere in what he says. The fact that one of the guys worked for Goldman Sachs doesn’t mean anything necessarily – he could see this as an opportunity to betray Goldman Sachs in order to gain influence for himself, and possibly run as president when Trump goes. The fact that Trump has guys who supported dictatorships only shows they are immoral, and there is the possibility that they supported dictatorships against communism but won’t support wars like Iraq or Libya, as they may not see wars like Iraq or Libya as necessary.

      • Brad Benson
        May 30, 2016 at 11:17 pm

        Actually I agree. Why would you think that I would disagree?

    • May 31, 2016 at 12:33 am

      Well said and well observed. It is getting more difficult in the west to get any descent narrative. The Washington Consensus which i call the Fourth Reich is poisoning the well of information. Journalism in the west dead . They r pushing for a military confrontation with the last remaining obtocles to the Washington consensus. Moscow,Beijing and Tehran r the only capitols that r fighting bak. South America is all but finished as we can see the events in Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia and Argentina, all countries that have been obstructing the Washington consensus r bit by bit falling like the house of cards. Yesterdays news gets wrapped in todays fish.

  2. Ella
    May 28, 2016 at 9:30 am

    It is entirely predictable that Trump would surround himself with professional thugs, and that professional thugs would be drawn to him, sensing a complementary pathology and an opportunity to put their own to “good” use.

    We have to start talking seriously about Trump’s incurable character defect and its ramifications for the world: https://medium.com/@Elamika/the-unbearable-lightness-of-being-a-narcissist-251ec901dae7#.kdb6mctvr

  3. Cheryl Taylor
    May 29, 2016 at 11:40 am

    We need to talk about Hillary and her incurable lying and her defects.

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