The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

The Manafort-Papadopoulos Drama Is Relatively Unsurprising

Happy Halloween! Try your best, ghosts and goblins. We live in a world with North Korean nukes, opioid addiction, Antifa, Russian hackers, a mass shooting in Las Vegas that still lacks a revealed motive, and Harvey Weinstein. Honestly, by comparison, ghosts and goblins are kind of relaxing.

Making the click-through worthwhile: why yesterday’s indictments and plea deals were less dramatic than the news media made it sound, some really ominous news out of North Korea, fallout from the allegations against Kevin Spacey, and why we need your help.

Mueller Strikes: The Thrilling, Exciting Drama That Isn’t That Thrilling or Exciting

I know everyone else in the Washington press corps is treating the first indictments and plea deals with special counsel Robert Mueller as a combination of Christmas and Watergate. But in the clear light of Tuesday morning, don’t Monday’s events feel predictable?

As everyone who bothered to look could see, Paul Manafort always had some unusual and shady connections in Ukraine. Think back to last June. Manafort received his promotion to campaign manager because Corey Lewandowski had proven completely unprepared to run the campaign of the Republican nominee:

Shortly after it began, the children peppered Lewandowski with questions, asking him to explain the campaign’s lack of infrastructure. “They went through the punch list. ‘Where are we with staffing? Where are we with getting the infrastructure built?’” one source explained. Their father grew visibly upset as he heard the list of failures. Finally, he turned to Lewandowski and said, “What’s your plan here?”

Lewandowski responded that he wanted to leak Trump’s vice-president pick.

It’s not like Manafort was a longtime Trump confidante. He was brought on to run the convention and ensure Trump didn’t lose the nomination because of a delegate rebellion. Manfort met two key criteria: He had done it before (way back in 1976!) and he was willing to work for Trump. The Trump campaign, at least at midsummer, simply didn’t have that many other figures who could credibly serve as campaign manager. Remember, at the time, Trump’s campaign looked like the Titanic.

Even then, he only lasted until mid-August, when Trump and Manafort chafed and Kellyanne Conway became the new campaign manager. One of the reasons for that chafing was Trump learning from the press about Manafort’s foreign lobbying and connections:

According to two people familiar with Trump’s decision, Trump on Thursday night was given a copy of an Associated Press story about how Manafort’s firm had not properly disclosed its foreign lobbying, shortly before taking the stage in North Carolina. Trump “blew a gasket,” one person said, and told Bannon and others that he should be dismissed.

Our favorite former prosecutor, Andy McCarthy, writes that yesterday’s Manafort indictment is “a dubious case of disclosure violations and money movement that would never have been brought had he not drawn attention to himself by temporarily joining the Trump campaign.”

The widespread perception is that Mueller is trying to pressure Manafort to get him to flip. But the big question is, what, if anything, does Manafort know that would be of value to Mueller and dangerous to Trump? If you’re skeptical of the Trump-and-Putin-cackling-together-as-they-plot-world-domination narrative, there’s a possibility that Manafort doesn’t have that much dirt to spill, at least about the president.

The guilty plea from foreign-policy adviser George Papadopoulos will probably prove more significant to the arguments about alleged collusion. But even then, the portrait painted by the indictment makes the Trump campaign look like amateur hour and Papadopoulos look painfully naïve. Papadopoulos was fooled by a woman who claimed she was Vladimir Putin’s niece. Did she promise him a pile of magic beans, too? She didn’t offer to throw in the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge?

I mean, just Google a little: “Putin, now 61, is his parents’ youngest and only surviving child and was born nearly 20 years after two older brothers named Albert and Viktor. Albert died as a baby and Viktor succumbed to diphtheria during the siege of Leningrad in the Second World War.”

Putin has no surviving siblings, and I can’t find any reference to Putin’s first wife having any siblings, either. There, within five minutes, I proved reason to doubt the claim of this woman being Putin’s niece, and I’m just a schmo with an Internet connection. This so-called “foreign policy expert” couldn’t do that. Then again, this guy was a 2009 college grad who listed Model U.N. as one of his credentials. The Trump campaign was scraping the bottom of the barrel when trying to assemble a foreign policy advisory team.

So the big revelations of yesterday are that Manafort tried to hide his work for foreign interests, the Trump campaign had a lot of not-so-smart hangers-on, and the Russians were tricky and hungry to make connections with the Trump camp? This is not “black swan” level unpredictability.

Speaking of Those North Korean Nukes . . . 

North Korea’s nuclear program is a danger to everyone . . . including the North Koreans.

A tunnel at an underground North Korea nuclear site has collapsed with up to 200 people killed, according to reports.

The collapse happened at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the north-east of the country on October 10, according to Japan’s TV Asahi.

The disaster has prompted fears of a massive radioactive leak which could spark a Chernobyl- or Fukushima-style disaster.

A North Korean official said the collapse happened during the construction of an underground tunnel, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports.

Some 100 people are said to have been trapped by the initial tunnel collapse, with a further 100 lost in a second collapse during a rescue operation, Asahi reported Tuesday.

Lee Eugene, a spokeswoman at South Korea’s unification ministry, said: “We are aware of the report but do not know anything about it.”

Experts said if the peak crumbles, clouds of radioactive dust and gas would blanket the region, the South China Morning Post reported.

Hey, China, are you watching this? Want to do something about this, before the radioactive clouds start blowing in new directions?

To borrow a phrase from P.J. O’Rourke, giving a nuclear program to the North Koreans is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

Kevin Spacey’s Show Comes Tumbling Down Like A . . . 

After the allegations of Kevin Spacey making a sexual advance on a 14-year-old broke out, the television show House of Cards is suddenly collapsing like a . . . well, you know.

As allegations of unwanted sexual advances in 1986 by Kevin Spacey against then-14-year-old Anthony Rapp have emerged, Netflix today decided to pull the plug on the Spacey-starring House of Cards after the upcoming sixth season next year.

Coming just more than 12 hours after Star Trek Discovery star Rapp first made public his allegations of what happened at a party at Spacey’s New York City apartment back in the mid-1980s, the streaming service made the official decision today, sources tell us. While Netflix and producers Media Rights Capital were leaning towards ending the show a while ago, key cast and creatives were only alerted this morning in a series of calls.

“Media Rights Capital and Netflix are deeply troubled by last night’s news concerning Kevin Spacey,” the companies said in a joint statement today. “In response to last night’s revelations, executives from both of our companies arrived in Baltimore this afternoon to meet with our cast and crew to ensure that they continue to feel safe and supported. As previously scheduled, Kevin Spacey is not working on set at this time.”

We have also heard that Netflix’s Spacey-starring film Gore about the acerbic author Gore Vidal may be on the chopping block now too.

One presumes this decision stems from a confluence of three factors. The first is that no one has come up with any reason to doubt the accusation from Rapp. The second is that Spacey didn’t really deny the accusation, he just claimed he didn’t remember. The third was Netflix and the producers were already discussing ending the show. If House of Cards was in its first or second season, and still a huge hit for Netflix, would they be so willing to end the show?

Or is it that Netflix and the producers already had a backup plan in place?

Variety has learned that the streaming service and producer Media Rights Capital are in very early stages of development on multiple ideas for a potential spinoff. One concept revolves around Doug Stamper, the political aide-de-camp played by actor Michael Kelly in the first five seasons of the political drama, with Eric Roth set to write. Roth served as an executive producer on the first four seasons of “House of Cards” and is currently exec producing TNT’s “The Alienist.”

ADDENDA: Our Charlie Cooke explains why we’re asking for donations, and what those donations can mean to National Review’s expanding stable of podcast offerings.

Who the heck would fund a group that creates commercials that depict Ed Gillespie voters as homicidal manaics, eager to run down children in pickup trucks?

Ah, George Soros, that’s who would do that.

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