It has been recognized for millennia, since Aesop: you know a man by the company he keeps.
Does he hang out with, or hire liars?
Does he feel very badly for a convicted felon, a philanderer, and tax cheat?
Does he confess to falling in love with arguably the most despicable despot on the planet after their first date?
What can be gleaned from the company our president keeps?
For example, take Paul Manafort, whom our president hired to manage his 2016 campaign. Like many people our president hires, Manafort didn’t last long: less than five months. Since then he has been convicted of or admitted to multiple felonies committed before, while, and after he was working for the election of our president.
Although not known for his bleeding heart, our president feels “very badly” for Manafort, who he also calls “brave” and a “good man.”
And what did this brave and good man do? He cheated on his taxes to the tune of “more than $6 million in federal taxes owed,” according to the government’s sentencing memorandum. He also committed bank fraud, securing more than $25 million from financial institutions “through lies resulting in a fraud loss of more than $6 million,” the memo continues.
Was Paul Manafort poor as well as brave (brazen might be the better word here)? Did he need the money? A married man, he was, after all, keeping a mistress 30 years his junior in high style: among other expenses he rented her an apartment in Manhattan and a house in the Hamptons, according to The Atlantic magazine. He spent more than $1.3 million of his ill-gotten gains on his own wardrobe, including a $15,000 ostrich-leather jacket.
So did poor Paul need the cash? Not according to the Special Counsel’s Office: “Neither the Probation Department nor the government is aware of any mitigating factors. Manafort did not commit these crimes out of necessity or hardship. He was well educated, professionally successful, and financially well off.”
No, it seems he simply wanted more. More is more and some people can’t get enough.
Manafort’s crimes go back to 2005 and right up to 2018, when he was convicted of an obstruction of justice conspiracy while he was subject to court-ordered bail conditions based on charges for other crimes. So his bail was revoked and off he went to jail. Brave? Good? Brazen? Stupid? Here stands a man who committed a federal crime while under scrutiny for myriad other federal crimes; and unsurprisingly he got caught.
Should we, like our president, feel “very badly” for Paul Manafort, who defrauded banks and stole money from the U.S. Treasury, which the rest of us (most of us in the W-2 crowd anyway) pay into? Some of our stolen money went to his mistress who was posting news of their world travels on Instagram. Needless to report, like his crimes, Manafort’s infidelity didn’t remain a secret.
Do you feel “very badly” for Paul Manafort? I don’t. I have a longstanding aversion to thieves, especially the well-to-do subspecies.
Rather I feel badly that our president is lavishing his limited supply of human kindness on such an unlovely human being, a prototypical Washington swamp thing who thrived in the boggy world of lobbying, insider influence, and deceit.
Many people surmise that our president is sending “brave” Paul a message: Hang in there, and I’ll come to your rescue with a pardon. Or maybe our president sees much of himself, and his future, in Paul Manafort. There are striking similarities.
Poor Paul, of course, is but one example of the company our president keeps. Five others in close orbit to him have been convicted or charged with crimes, including Michael Cohen, the president’s former and longtime lawyer, whom he now accuses or being a lying “rat.”
Even assuming Cohen is lying about his former boss (time will determine if Cohen has evolved into a truthful rat), what does it tell you about our president that he hired and employed this man for a decade?
David Holahan is a freelance writer who lives in East Haddam.
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