On Tuesday, when President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, arrived in court for his first day on trial, as a result of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, his attire was bound to be a matter of special interest. According to the indictment, the political operative had spent an incredible $1.3 million on clothing between 2011 and 2014, using funds funnelled from offshore accounts, where, the prosecution charges, he hid tens of millions of dollars netted from his consulting work in Ukraine in order to evade taxation. Manafort cut a sober but swaggering figure as he entered the courtroom in a dark pinstriped suit. With his almost comically broad shoulders, stiff mane of hair, and shiny, patterned silver tie, his look embodied a style that my colleague Troy Patterson defined as “power-suit hyperbole.”
On Wednesday, however, this jaunty business attire was revealed to be understated compared with items that were apparently photographed during the raid on Manafort’s Alexandria condo, in the summer of 2017, and which were introduced as evidence by prosecutors. Among them was a cornflower-blue quilted jacket that might have suited Jim Morrison had he lived to middle age; a glossy navy-blue coat, plush with fur lining, of the type a minor hip-hop star might wear to hit a West Hollywood lounge; and a nipped-waist brown python jacket, presumably belonging to Mrs. Manafort. One pastel-toned plaid number brought to mind the loud, used-car-salesman-style jacket worn by the President’s former consigliere Michael Cohen. For obvious reasons, the media have lavished the most attention on a fifteen-thousand-dollar custom-made ostrich-leather jacket, its surface dotted with tiny, nipple-like bumps. Manafort’s apparent taste for expensive, showy skins recalled that of another shopping aficionado, the GQ writer Buzz Bissinger, who has written in the past about his addiction to expensive togs. (Bissinger, when approached for comment by the Daily Beast, said of the jacket, “Mine is much nicer. He should’ve gone to Gucci if he’s going to waste money.”)
A photo provided by the Department of Justice that was introduced into evidence on Wednesday.
Photograph Courtesy Department of Justice / AP
Most of the clothes reportedly came from two high-end menswear stores, House of Bijan in L.A. and Alan Couture, in New York—names that Jackie Collins might have given establishments where an evil mogul could obtain a manly trinket circa 1986. Alan Couture, now closed, was apparently fashioned as a kind of billionaire boys’ club, where customers could get a shave or enjoy a cigar with their peers. Maximilian Katzman, Alan’s son, testified on Wednesday that Manafort spent nearly a million dollars in the store between 2010 and 2014, and was the only customer to pay for his purchases with wire transfers from foreign banks. The U.S. district judge overseeing the trial, T. S. Ellis III, has admonished Manafort’s prosecutors for their attention to his personal spending habits. On Thursday, Ellis warned that the photo evidence was irrelevant at this stage of the proceedings. It “kind of besmirches the defendant,” he said. “Most of us don’t have closets of suits. It kind of engenders resentment against rich people.” The prosecutors, for their part, pushed back, arguing, quite persuasively, to my mind, that the evidence suggests why an apparently wealthy man like Manafort might need to commit bank fraud.
As Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby, with his “massed suits and dressing gowns and ties, and his shirts, piled like bricks in stacks a dozen high,” well knew, the promise of shopping is the promise of America—that of a life remade, a new frontier crossed and bested. But the images of Manafort’s purchases seemed to me most reminiscent of those from resale Web sites like eBay and Etsy, on which we frequently encounter others’ bad calls and buyer’s remorse. This was a man who had made many, many mistakes, the clothes seemed to say, only some of them involving exotic leathers. In the background of the images, there were glimpses of a home: the edge of an Oriental rug; the corner of a gold-framed painting; a Tiffany-style lamp; a small family portrait; a cordless phone alongside a box of tissues on a white dresser. Manafort’s garments, hanging drably from a metal coat rack at a closet’s open maw, appeared to reveal the sad aftermath of an attempt to wow, a onetime show of power turned into an embarrassing show of one’s hand. Without the ruddy meat of the man, the jackets looked pitiful and also, maybe, a little bit humanizing.