Buried among the revelations in the indictment against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, charging him with conspiracy to launder money, making false statements to the FBI and more, is the fact that he paid $934,350 to an antique rug store in Alexandria. Everything else about this story is also amazing, but I do not want to lose sight of this carpet. $934,350, over a period of years, for carpet!
Is not the simplest explanation the best and most likely to be true?
Maybe Paul Manafort just loves carpets, and he was not deluding anyone in any way. $934,350 is a totally reasonable amount of money to spend at a rug store. You can easily see how this would happen.
First, you walk into the store, thinking you need a small and simple rug to bring the room together, like “The Big Lebowski” advocated. You have lots of cash, for some reason. You can spend some on a rug, surely. Or what was the point of all your work abroad?
You look at some carpets. They all seem about the same, so you pick one at random.
“That one,” you say.
The salesman nods sagely. “I see that you are someone with an eye for carpets,” he says.
You have never thought of yourself as someone with an eye for carpets, but you always hate to disillusion people who have positive opinions of you, even when those people are salesmen. “Well,” you say, modestly, spreading your hands. “I dabble. I like a good…” Frantically, you try to remember the attributes that a good carpet is supposed to have. “Piling.”
“Ah yes,” the salesman says, smoothly, “a good, tall pile. Then you had better come with me.”
“I’m taking that one, of course,” you add, gesturing at the first rug.
“Very good. That is, of course, $15,750,” the salesman says. Without waiting for your response, he leads you into the next room. These carpets are, frankly, more than you are looking for, but you don’t want to admit it. You point at a small one in the corner. “Seems good,” you say.
“Ah,” the salesman says, adding it to the stack, “you are more than a match for me! We must go to the special collection! Nothing less will do for a man like you.”
“Er,” you say. “I suppose we had better.”
He throws open the door to another room, covered wall-to-wall with carpets. You drop your wallet in your nervousness and it entirely disappears into the deep, lush pile of one of them. The salesman has to send a wallet-sniffing dog in to retrieve it, and this costs an additional $7,400. You close your eyes and point at random to two carpets that you hope are not too expensive, but it turns out that they are $46,200. You call Cyprus to wire the money.
The salesman watches you intently. “I can see you are not finished with us yet,” he says. “A true connoisseur! Your knowledge is magisterial! Do you wish to meet the Maestro?”
“Yes,” you say, wilting a little inside.
The Maestro is a man in a fancy hat who is perched on one rolled-up carpet. When you come in, he gazes at you solemnly. “You are a man who knows what he wants,” he says.
“That’s me,” you say.
“That is what she tells me.” He gestures to the carpet next to him. “She sensed your presence,” he says. “She will go home with you, she tells me.”
“She,” you say. You swallow. “That is, the carpet?”
The other salesman has appeared at your elbow with a glass of pricey champagne. “We will drink this to toast her new home,” he says.
“Er,” you say, feebly, “actually, I think I’m about carpeted out. Got what I came for, as it were.”
“Mais non!” the salesman says. He is speaking French now, which makes everything sound twice as expensive as before. “Jamais!”
He unlocks a further door and leads you into an even more opulent room. It is full of carpets so beautiful you want to weep. They smell like home. The one in the middle is the finest yet. Looking on it, you know joy for the first time. A tag informs you that it was made lovingly by hand with entirely pure motives by the only good human being who remains in the world. It shows. “Climb on,” he says. “Together, you will fly.”
You climb onto the carpet, feeling rather foolish.
“Look!” the salesmen cry, in raptures. “You are flying!”
You don’t think you are flying, but the salesmen seem so impressed that you do not have the heart to disabuse them of this notion either. You mime flying around for a little bit and in the course of it you knock over an expensive lamp, lighting three carpets immediately on fire.
“I will add them to your bill,” the first salesman says.
“Yes,” you say. “I guess you’d better.” You are blind with panic. All you want now is to get out of this store before you cost yourself any more money. In your haste to get up you knock over two more lamps. The whole room is on fire.
“That will be $934,350,” the salesperson says.
“Ah,” you say. “I will wire the money to you slowly over a period of years, how does that sound?”
“Fine,” the salesman says. “Do you want over half a million dollars worth of bespoke suits?”
You shrug. “I might as well, at this point,” you say.
And that is probably how Paul Manafort wound up with those expenses that we now see listed. This is a perfectly logical explanation that involves no money laundering at all.