It was déjà vu watching my old cellmate Paul Manafort give his first TV interview, breaking months of silence following his Covid-blessed release from prison and then his pardon from outgoing President Trump. Manafort’s old friend and text buddy Sean Hannity (“we’re all on the same team”) had him on Monday night to throw a pity party and promote Trump’s former campaign manager’s upcoming book, Political Prisoner: Persecuted, Prosecuted, But Not Silenced.
I was Manafort’s celly for a few weeks in 2019 at the MCC federal lock-up in Manhattan, where I was doing time on a tax fraud charge (and where I also ended up as Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide watch inmate companion). And from where I sat (and slept), Paulie was mostly full of shit.
“That’s the kind of guy Manafort was: A user who gravitated to prisoners who kissed his ass.”
I can’t speak to Manafort’s claim in his interview about suffering in solitary, since he spent just one day there on arrival at MCC before he was forwarded to general population, with yours truly as his bunky. Manafort did not suffer at MCC. Inmates kissed his ass because he was famous, did not rat out his boss, and could hopefully give them lessons on money laundering.
For all that, Paulie was civilized and considerate company. Yes, he snored and farted — and got up in the middle of the night to read the bible. All cellies have their idiosyncrasies. But I suffered much worse during my stay, though the way we parted company left a bad taste in my mouth.
I recall vividly a discussion I had with him about Trump and his pussy-grabbing comment, a conversation during which I offered that Trump should have apologized for his indiscretion. Manafort was in complete disagreement with my point of view, responding that he felt that would have been an ill-advised strategy. Exactly that attitude translated in his interview with Hannity. “Poor, pitiful me,” was how it sounded. As if he had done nothing to earn what was supposed to have been his seven-year sentence.
While I was off working two different prison jobs and thus not around very much, Paulie was being courted by a republican Wall Streeter who was locked up for issuing phony reports to his investors. Dan wanted Manfort as his celly, and rumor had it that he was willing to cash-app a payment to a guard who could effect that switch.
Without giving me any warning ( though I knew from friends in the unit what was about to happen), Manafort exited while I was at work. He didn’t have the consideration to give me a heads up so I could look for a worthy replacement before a bubble officer gave me just “anybody.” Not cool by prison standards.
Intent on testing Manafort upon my return from the kitchen, I found him in Dan’s cell and asked “So Paulie! The honeymoon is over?”
“I don’t know. They moved me in here this afternoon,” he said.
“Paulie! You don’t have to bullshit me. I have eyes and ears in here. I know the truth.”
With a diplomatic move I’m sure he’s used a hundred times before, Manafort shook my hand and put his other hand on my shoulder as if to say “Ok! I’m busted but we’re still friends, right?”
Paul’s lack of consideration was not directed just my way. My next bunky, Chan, did Manafort’s laundry for him in exchange for the standard prison payment of two packs of mackerel. Chan reported that Manafort dodged him for payment until the kitchen CO gave him some free kitchen food for whatever reason, whereupon he paid for his laundry with that rather than drop $2 for mac packs at the commissary.
Chan rolled his eyes after Manafort left our cell and commented “That’s the last time I do that asshole’s laundry. His underwear had skid marks.”
For my part, the next time I went to the kitchen, I chided the officer who gave Manafort free food, and let her know he used it to pay for his laundry to be cleaned. As far as I know, that was the last time she sent food up for Paulie.
Similarly, Rob, a kitchen worker, sold Manafort a salad from the officer’s mess that he reported Paulie just never paid for. That’s the kind of guy Manafort was: A user who gravitated to prisoners who kissed his ass.
For a while, I admit he was a breath of fresh air with his infamy and intellect. (Manafort does have a degree in law from Georgetown. And we shared a common interest in American History). But ultimately, Paulie was a full-of-crap dandy and user.
Watching him on TV go on about how his shit didn’t stink reminds me how much his farts did.
What stood out for me in that interview is something he didn’t say: “I hid my income from the US treasury and tried to launder it through home improvement contractors, and falsified loan applications in an attempt to get banks to lend me millions of dollars.”
I can believe that Manafort was targeted by zealous prosecutors. I know the feeling. But in his place, I’d have begun the conversation with an open admission of my guilt if for no other reason than to lend veracity to my following statements. He didn’t do that.
Paulie will sell a few books to Trump followers and have his moment in the sun. But that doesn’t change the kind of guy he is: Just one of six bunkies I suffered while imprisoned, none of whom quite ever recognized the error of the ways that got them confined to 60 square feet with me in the first place.
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