Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and the Ghost of Roy Cohn

            From 2005 to 2014, Donald Trump's Campaign Director Paul Manafort was a political advisor to Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych who was staunchly pro-Russian. In 2014, Yanukovych was driven from office. Hand-written ledgers in the offices of Yanukovych's political party contain entries of $12.7 million in previously undisclosed cash disbursements to Manafort.

            When asked for comment about these entries Mr. Manafort stated that:

“The suggestion that I accepted cash payments is unfounded, silly and nonsensical,” Manafort said, adding that he never worked for the governments of Ukraine or Russia and that he stopped working in Ukraine after the October 2014 elections there."
            Mr. Manafort's response is an adroit non-denial denial. There is no indication in the ledger as to what the cash disbursements were for. The issue is whether cash was disbursed at his direction and, if so, for what purpose. Roger Stone is a longtime political operative and partner of Manafort.

            There is an incident in 1980 in which Stone was involved that illustrates just how evasive Manafort's non-denial may be. The basic facts of the incident were reported by Matt Labash in The Weekly Standard in a profile of Roger Stone.[i] Some underlying facts which fill in gaps of the story I can fill in from confidential sources in the Liberal Party which was the supposed object of a $125,000 cash bribe. It was gathered by Roy Cohn and delivered in an unopened valise to an attorney associated with the Liberal Party by Stone. The intent was to purchase the endorsement of the Liberal Party for John Anderson as an independent candidate for President.

            The Liberal Party did in fact endorse Anderson and the Anderson vote on the Liberal line allowed Reagan to carry New York with a plurality (not a majority of the vote).

            It is fairly clear that the attorney who received the bribe money was the late Ray Harding. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to charges that he had taken $800,000 for doing favors for Mr. Hevesi. He had acted as a sham intermediary for associates of the comptroller who were awarded lucrative contracts to manage the state’s $141 billion pension fund. He also had schemed to secure a State Assembly seat for Mr. Hevesi’s son.

            According to one source what Cohn and Stone were paying for was "garbage." The leadership of the Party was totally uniformed of the bribe. The vote occurred within two days of delivery of the cash to Harding.

            The reason the purported bribe was garbage was that the leadership had already decided to endorse Anderson because despite much lobbying by the Liberal Party, the Carter White House had been unresponsive to Liberal Party complaints about the outsourcing of US jobs to foreign countries. This was over a decade before NAFTA. The Liberal Party was actually the creation of New York City garment center unions. Saving NYC garment center jobs was paramount to those unions. Despite weeks of lobbying, the Carter Administration offered no support to the Union demands. The Anderson vote was foreordained before the Cohn-Stone $125,000 bribe.

            I have noted on occasion, that in my opinion the first and greatest politician of all time was Chanticleer,  the rooster who crows so that the sun may rise.

            Here's what this tale has to do with Paul Manafort and his non-denial denial: Did Roy Cohn receive a cash payment? Did Roger Stone receive a cash payment? They may have conspired to bribe the Liberal Party, but they both could argue they were only conduits for cash payments, not the recipients.

            The bottom line is this: Manafort's carefully worded denial tells us nothing and may be technically true. The issue might be to whom did he either deliver or direct the payments to? That might be something that keepers of the register would have wanted to keep secret.

            Hear the laughter? It's Roy Cohn's ghost.

[i] Matt Labash, "Roger Stone Political Animal," Weekly Standard, November 5, 2007

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