The Best Reporting on Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and, Of Course, George Papadopoulos

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, his protégé Rick Gates and the less well-known Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos have all faced scrutiny before Monday. Here are our favorite stories on them.

The Quiet American, Slate, April 28, 2016

“Manafort has spent a career working on behalf of clients that the rest of his fellow lobbyists and strategists have deemed just below their not-so-high moral threshold. Manafort has consistently given his clients a patina of respectability that has allowed them to migrate into the mainstream of opinion, or close enough to the mainstream. He has a particular knack for taking autocrats and presenting them as defenders of democracy. If he could convince the respectable world that thugs like Savimbi and Marcos are friends of America, then why not do the same for Trump? One of his friends told me, ‘He wanted to do his thing on home turf. He wanted one last shot at the big prize.’”

Paul Manafort’s Wild and Lucrative Philippine Adventure, Politico, June 10, 2016

“POLITICO found that Manafort worked more closely than previously known with Marcos and his wife, Imelda, in Manila, where Manafort and his associates advised the couple on electoral strategy, and in Washington, where they worked to retain goodwill by tamping down concerns about the Marcos regime’s human rights record, theft of public resources, and ultimately their perpetration of a massive vote-rigging effort to try to stay in power in the Philippines’ 1986 presidential election.”

How Paul Manafort Tried to BS Me—and the World, Mother Jones, July 21, 2016

“Manafort, who for decades has been an adviser to warlords and autocratic thugs overseas, including a Ukrainian leader allied with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, had been spinning furiously; some might call it lying. He probably had not even had time to read the full story and discuss it with Trump. Yet he went straight into denial mode, claiming the Times had misquoted his candidate. But it hadn’t. (Manafort later tried this stunt with other reporters.)”

Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Donald Trump’s Campaign Chief, The New York Times, Aug. 14, 2016

“Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.”

Manafort Tied to Undisclosed Foreign Lobbying, Associated Press, Aug. 17, 2016

“Donald Trump’s campaign chairman helped a pro-Russian governing party in Ukraine secretly route at least $2.2 million in payments to two prominent Washington lobbying firms in 2012, and did so in a way that effectively obscured the foreign political party’s efforts to influence U.S. policy.”

Manafort’s Man in Kiev, Politico, Aug. 18, 2016

“All the while, Kilimnik has told people that he remains in touch with his old mentor. He told several people that he traveled to the United States and met with Manafort this spring. The trip and alleged meeting came at a time when Manafort was immersed in helping guide Trump’s campaign through the bitter Republican presidential primaries, and was trying to distance himself from his work in Ukraine.”

Washington Lobbyist And Trump Advisor Paul Manafort Owns Brownstone In Carroll Gardens, Pardon Me For Asking, Feb. 16, 2017

“According to ACRIS, The Federal Savings Bank provided funds of $5,300,000 on the property on January 17, 2017.  (The amount needs to be repaid by January 2018).  An additional mortgage of  $1,200,000 by The Federal Savings Bank was issued on the same day. Genesis Capital Master Fund II, LLC appears to have loaned another $303,750.”

Former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort Took Out $19 Million In Puzzling Real Estate Loans, The Intercept, Feb. 24, 2017

“The raw facts stand out for their strangeness. Since 2012, Manafort has taken out seven home equity loans worth approximately $19.2 million on three separate New York-area properties he owns through holding companies registered to him and his son-in-law Jeffrey Yohai, a real estate investor.”

Paul Manafort’s Puzzling New York Real Estate Purchases, WNYC, March 28, 2017

“Nine current and former law enforcement and real estate experts told WNYC that Manafort’s deals merit scrutiny. Some said the purchases follow a pattern used by money launderers: buying properties with all cash through shell companies, then using the properties to obtain ‘clean’ money through bank loans. In addition, given that Manafort is already under investigation for his foreign financial and political ties, his New York property transactions should also be reviewed, multiple experts said.”

Manafort Still Doing International Work, Politico, June 15, 2017

“One of the people, a lawyer involved in the discussions, said Manafort indicated that he could convince the Trump administration to support any resulting deal, because he’s remained in contact with Trump’s team, and that he played a role in helping to soften Trump’s tough campaign rhetoric on China.

‘He’s going around telling people that he’s still talking to the president and — even more than that — that he is helping to shape Trump’s foreign policy,’ said the lawyer involved in the discussions.”

How the Russia Investigation Entangled a Manafort Protégé, The New York Times, June 16, 2017

“As investigators examine Mr. Manafort’s financial and political dealings at home and abroad, they are likely to run into Mr. Gates wherever they look. During the pair’s heady days in Ukraine, it was Mr. Gates who flew to Moscow for meetings with associates of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch. His name appears on documents linked to shell companies that Mr. Manafort’s firm set up in Cyprus to receive payments from politicians and businesspeople in Eastern Europe.”

Trump Campaign Emails Show Aide’s Repeated Efforts to Set Up Russia Meetings, The Washington Post, Aug. 14, 2017

“The adviser, George Papadopoulos, offered to set up “a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump,” telling them his Russian contacts welcomed the opportunity, according to internal campaign emails read to The Washington Post.”

These 13 Wire Transfers Are A Focus Of The FBI Probe Into Paul Manafort , BuzzFeedNews, Oct. 29, 2017

“The extent of Manafort’s suspicious transactions was so vast, said this former official, that law enforcement agents drafted a series of “intelligence reports” about Manafort’s financial dealings. Two law enforcement officials who worked on the case say that they found red flags in his banking records going back as far as 2004, and that the transactions in question totaled many millions of dollars.”

 

The Lives She Saved

 

Emily

She was supposed to die.

Emily Kessler was the mouse. The Nazis were the cats. The chase went on for two years. The mouse was scared and starving. The cat was agile and ferocious. But the cat didn’t know there were other players in the game. This is their story.

When the sun blinked through the winter skies of Khmelnik, Ukraine on Jan. 9, 1942, Emily Kessler didn’t know it would be the last day she would ever be home. The war had taken her husband the year before and she was living with her parents and her brother Sasha, along with her two-year-old son.

The town was swarming with SS death squads and Wehrmacht combat units whose mission was the liquidation of Jews, day after day, without restraint or compromise, with the help of local collaborators. Since the Nazis had marched in, Jews were all made to wear the yellow Star of David, first on their sleeves, then on their chests and on backs. The Jews were all assigned backbreaking and humiliating work, which was the least bad thing they had to do. They were not allowed on the sidewalks of their hometown. They were not allowed to buy food. They were not allowed to see a doctor. They were beaten or killed on the whims of the Nazis.

At 6:00 a.m. on that frigid January morning, several Nazis burst in into Kessler’s home and started beating her. One of them pointed his gun at Kessler’s brother Sasha. During Stalin’s homegrown famine in the 1930s, Sasha had fainted on the road from hunger, was hit by a bus and had lost both his legs in the accident.

Nazis were not known for their kindness to the physically challenged.

Kessler stood between the gun and her brother but the soldier pushed her away and killed Sasha in front of her eyes. Too numb to process what she had just seen, she forgot to put clothes on her two-year-old son, Valeriy, when she was pushed and prodded out on the cold street. There were more Jews lined outside and Nazis on horses herding them towards the nearby forest. When they entered the forest Kessler saw a large pit.

Quickly enough, Nazi horsemen started screaming at people to strip naked and then shot and pushed them into the pit. Kessler saw them throwing down babies in the pit over their dead parents. She saw them breaking the babies into two on their knees. She saw a friend walking towards the pit with dead eyes and no will to fight.

Kessler wanted to live for three reasons. She didn’t want to die young, she didn’t want her son to die and she wanted to bear witness to what she had seen. She started darting from one line of captives to another on the frosty forest floor in her summer dress, undeterred by the guards who were beating her.

When her turn at the edge of the pit came, a strange thing happened. A German officer looked at her and decided she was not a Jew. He told her to run away. She ran but was caught and brought back to the pit by the local policemen. Again, the German officer looked at her and told her to run away.

Kessler later heard that thousands of Jews – men, women and children – were killed in the mass shooting that she had escaped. Those alive, like Kessler, were rounded up and marched to the prison where they were kept for four days without food or water.

She fed her hungry baby boy the snow frozen on the windowsill of her cell. Kessler saw her parents through the prison window once and they saw her. Only once in those four days, a local policeman tore off a piece of bread and threw it at the prisoners. A hundred fifty pairs of hands rushed to catch the bread. Kessler caught a tiny piece.

The Jews were soon ordered to move into a ghetto where 200 of them were crammed together on cold floors. A week after she saw her brother’s death, Kessler witnessed rows and rows of Jews sentenced to death. Among them were her parents, embracing each other, dawdling to their death. Some of the Jews, unhinged or truly happy, were dancing while they moved to the grave.

In the ghetto, those “fit” were made to work. Like many, Kessler washed the lavatories used by Nazis with bare hands, carried bricks for construction and ploughed the snow from the roads. Her hands, tiny and delicate, that once strummed the mandolin were always busy scraping and scrubbing dirt. She grew weaker and weaker and knew she wouldn’t pass the medical test that sent the unfit Jews to the graves. It was forbidden to treat sick Jews or even those dying of starvation. The labor camp was a factory for making people sick and then dead. Then she heard whispers in the camp that all the children were to be killed the next night. She did the unthinkable. She slipped out of the ghetto in the dark of night.

Kessler roamed the town for days, looking for places to spend the nights. She hid in abandoned buildings and cellars while avoiding the soldiers and their search dogs. One night, she knocked on the door of a woman named Vera Shchupova. She was the sister one of a Ukrainian policemen in the ghetto. She was also Kessler’s classmate when they were children.

Vera

It was a rainy night when Vera Shchupova opened her doors and found Emily Kessler with Valeriy at her step, barefoot and drenched. Her brother’s position meant Shchupova had the freedom to go inside the fenced area without restrictions. Her brother didn’t know that she had been going to the ghetto to slip food to Kessler and few others. She told Kessler that, as she feared, the Nazis had carried off the children’s Aktion — mass killings of sick, disabled and children “unworthy of life” started by Hitler in 1939. She let Kessler in and hid her in the basement for a month. During the time Kessler was hiding in Shchupova’s basement, her brother often visited her sister’s home with his fellow officers.

American cartoonist Art Spiegelman once asked his psychiatrist Pavel, a Czech Jew and survivor of Terezin and Auschwitz, how it felt to be in the camp, to live under the shadows of Nazis and SS officers.

“What Auschwitz felt like?” Pavel said, “How can I explain?”

“BOO!” He startled Spiegelman with the loud sound.

“It felt a little like THAT,” Pavel said. “But ALWAYS. From the moment you got to the gate until the very end.”

Kessler lived in Shchupova’s basement hearing the Nazi collaborators and policemen coming and going. Frightened of her own baby’s cries, she finally asked Shchupova if there was a way she could leave the town. Shchupova thought of Yekaterina (Katya) Surovova.

Katya

Yekaterina (Katya) Surovova was a Gentile woman who had been widowed at a young age, much like Emily Kessler. She was raising a daughter and a son on her own with her job in a coat factory in Khmelnik. She saw the Nazis march into her town, where most of the non-Jewish population was very pro-German. It was no surprise that they had found so many collaborators so quickly. In these times, there was a thin line between collaborators and bystanders. Surovova fell in neither of these comfortable categories. When her friend Shchupova sought Surovova and asked her if she would give her passport to help Kessler flee, she thought of Kessler and her baby boy. She thought of her own children. The passport had her face, her name, her address on it. Kessler’s arrest would have meant death, not just for her but for her children too. All she had to do was lower her head and carry on with her life like many around her were doing. Why risk her life, the life of her children for a Jew with SS guards on her heels? She had all the reasons not to help Kessler. She decided to help her.

With her new passport, Kessler was now Katya Surovova. She left town with her son and another Aktion survivor, 13-year-old Fira Milkis whom Kessler had found hiding in a cellar. They walked through the day, and slept in the shade of haystacks when the night fell. After days of walking and they came upon the border zone, patrolled by frontier-guards who killed anyone trying to cross the line. Kessler waded through a river that was running up to her neck, carrying her son over her head and Milkis in tow. Somehow the frontier-guards missed them. She eventually came to the town of Zhmerinka in Central Ukraine, which was under Romanian control. But she was still was not safe, not if anyone took too close a look at her passport. So she kept running and running until the country was liberated in March of 1944.

Home 

While Kessler was still in the labor camp, the local policemen had allowed a few people to bring bedding from their now abandoned houses. When Kessler had made her way back to her home, she had found all the windows and doors broken. The house stood silent and plundered, covered with blood and feathers. And in the middle lay the frozen corpse of her brother. Kessler had just stood there, staring at her brother. She couldn’t cry, for fear her cries might be heard. In the end, she couldn’t bring herself to take anything from the house, not even her baby’s clothes.

Instead of returning home to Ukraine after the war, Kessler decided instead to go to Moscow and that was where she remained for another 30 years. Every October, however, she returned to Khmelnik for the memorial service of those perished in Holocaust. She also visited her saviors, Shchupova and Surovova. Finally, in 1977, she and her grown son left the Soviet Union for America. But life in New York was difficult for Kessler. She knew no one and spoke little English.

It wasn’t until 1985 that she caught a glimpse of home. She was walking past a music shop window in Manhattan when she spotted a mandolin, an instrument whose song was the song of home. She had somehow forgotten in the midst of all the noisy, bloody memories that she knew how to play mandolin. The lyrics of all the Ukrainian songs she had once sung came rushing back to her.

Now, Emily Kessler has a map of wrinkles on her face and eyes that still twinkle with intelligence. She won’t talk without clasping her pearl necklace around her neck. She most probably will comment about the lack of grey in her chestnut hair. And she is always translating English to Russian and Russian to English with the help of an old withering dictionary. She has battled depression and memories her whole life.

But she’s home when she plays her mandolin.

Post Script

Through Emily Kessler’s story I wanted to know the answer to one question – why do people show remarkable courage in extremely difficult times when they have a choice to look the other way?

I knew the story was all about memories – reliving them, corroborating them and looking at one remembrance from different vantage points. When I went to meet 98-year-old Emily Kessler in her Upper West Side apartment, she had forgotten that we had an appointment but then she scrubbed her face clean, creamed it, clasped her pearl necklace around her neck and sat down on her sofa to talk to me. She told me as much as she could. We spoke about her life after the liberation, her days in the camp, her rescuers and their family. She told me she still sends three hundred dollars, every three months, to Kolya Surovova – the grandson of her rescuer Katya Surovova. She told me how she had even helped and was in touch with another inmate of the same labor camp Sophia Karpovich, now living in New York.

So, I contacted Sophia Karpovich, now 77-years-old, to know her side of the story. Her memories (including what she had heard from her elder brother, also an inmate in the camp) matched Kessler’s.

The next step was to contact the Surovovas in Ukraine. They were pleased to corroborate Kessler’s story. Kolya said something to the effect that their grandmother’s one good deed was now rescuing his family with the money Kessler sends them. The economic conditions of Ukraine are at their worst and the only earning member in Kolya’s family of four is his wife Tatiana.

Then I asked him – why did she do it? Why did Katya help Kessler?

She was a mother too, Kolya said. They must have connected, she saw the baby. But the answer really was this – she just did.

I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact someone could risk her own life and that of their family to save someone she hardly knew. I myself have witnessed how easy it is to do otherwise, and it had been to a question that has been haunting me since childhood. I had witnessed sectarian riots in my native India. I had seen my own neighbors turn into bystanders; I had seen people who were kind to those utterly helpless and at the mercy of the mob. I had always wanted to know the difference between those who acted well, and those who did not.

So I contacted Kristen Renwick Monroe, Director of University of California Irvine’s Ethics Center. She has written three books analyzing altruism and ethics in the age of terror. She gave me the psychological answers to my question based on her extensive research and years of interviews with people who fell in three categories: rescuers, silent bystanders and the tormentors.

She told me that altruists see the world as one and believe they have no choice but to save other people. Bystanders, by contrast, see themselves as weak and unable to change the fate of anyone, so they remain uninvolved – looking the other way. Tormentors (in Kessler’s case, the Nazis) believe they are under attack, and so have a rationale for inflicting pain.

Her research suggested a thin line between those who rescued Jews and those who didn’t. It is clear from the quotes of those Monroe interviewed and included in her book “Ethics in the Age of Terror:”

“But what else could I do? They were human beings like you and me.” ~ Rescuers of Jews during Holocaust

But what could I do? I was one person, alone against the Nazis.” ~ Bystanders, World War II.

I then contacted Yad Vashem – an organization that was established in 1953 as the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust. They sent me links to the records and accounts of these two women – Vera and Katya – who had saved Kessler and Valeriy’s life. Yad Vashem also honors those non-Jews who had aided Jews during World War II. Since 1960s, the title of “Righteous Amongst the Nations” has been awarded to 24,355 people from over 47 countries. Vera and Katya are among them.

I went on the website of Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. to find any references of Kessler and got a hit. Apparently in 1993, with the help of someone in New York Public Library, Kessler had written a memoir of her ordeals in Khmelnik under German occupation. That is how I came to find Kessler’s memoir.

Now, I had the pieces of Kessler’s story, from many sources including her own words, written when she was young.

During the interview Kessler said something that made me think about the masks we all wear over our scars everyday.

“I smile,” Kessler. “People know me only smiling. People find me beautiful. How can I be beautiful after what I have seen?”

***

 

First published in projectwordsworth.com on March 201, 2016:

The Lives She Saved

Journalism in India: In all seriousness

The nation watched in horror as the son-in-law of a political party, high on arrogance and drunk on power, brutally attacked a reporter with words so vicious they made the hair on virtuous necks stand up – “Are you serious? Are you nuts?”

It was remarkable how all the major Indian news channels wasted no time to stand in solidarity with a fellow journalist, just like they stood with the lady who was sexually assaulted by a famous editor last year. Such harmony is always heartening to see, especially when all the channels have a common goal. (We band of brothers!)

This issue was grave enough that the channels dedicated all their resources and prime time slots, for the next two days to rip apart every angle of and motivation behind this one damning remark “Are you serious?” And, rightly so. Horrible news such as this demands sensible coverage and no less is expected from top journalists who leave no stone unturned to report what is important and relevant for the country.

This incident stood out like an eyesore especially since the country has gotten quite used to the flood of enthralling news reportage post May 16th. The media is so accustomed to having all their questions answered by the new and charismatic Prime Minister and the easy access that they are enjoying into the going-ons of his government and cabinet members, that an unanswered question took the whole media industry completely by surprise. They were shocked by this sinister attack on their Camelot.

Even the social arm of the media, which is usually so calm and level headed, couldn’t stay quiet. It’s not everyday that the Indian side of the Internet wakes up and starts opining on just about anything! Twitter all but cracked into two halves with defenders of both side rising like Roman warriors – muscled with opinions, armed with righteousness. Imagine the effort it must have taken to announce and denounce views from the typically hard-working and busy denizens who only come online in emergency situations like #KursiKiPeti or #FoodPorn

But let’s not take away all the credit from where it belongs. No one knows the steel-spined, unforgiving, adversarial attitude in covering anybody who takes residence in 7RCR, more than the Indian news media. They were fearlessly critical of the previous government when it did nothing for the country, and they are still fearlessly critical of the previous government while it’s doing nothing for the country. That does not mean they have not covered the follies, lies and scandals of the otherwise flawless cabinet ministers. Their in-depth coverage to unearth the source of the money spent by the HRD minister on the 15,000 “Diwali saris” to Amethi constituency, was so encompassing, it can qualify as a case study for journalism students. The price of these “gifts”, was plastered all over the news channels and was repeated over and over quite like “Are you serious” till every taxpayer was standing in barely controlled rage with questions of their own. Such is the power of news!

No wonder, the world stood enraptured by the brave display of unyielding integrity by the entire Indian media, its social siblings, and especially the unlikely hero who went to cover the inauguration of a gymnasium and faced the impudent son-in-law who dared to question the seriousness and sanctity of journalism.

We should all be proud. Journalism was never this serious in our country.

Journalism is dead, serious.

***

 

First published in twocircles.net on Nov. 7, 2014:

http://twocircles.net/2014nov07/1415382347.html#.VKA_wMAAEM