The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

All the president’s ‘Guys’

(Washington Post illustration; iStock/Original images by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post, Getty images and the Associated Press)

Remember Rob Goldstone? He was the portly British publicist who took selfies wearing wacky hats, and who sent Donald Trump Jr. an email offering documents from the Russians that would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton.

“If it’s what you say I love it,” Don Jr. wrote back in 2016, before setting up a meeting.

Rob Goldstone is a Trump Guy, a member of a fraternity of oddballs, attention hounds and hapless bagmen who never would have come within 100 yards of presidential affairs under normal circumstances — but who now, thanks to President Trump, will remain part of history long after we forget their names. Scaramucci. Lewandowski. Omarosa. Seb Gorka. Carter Page. Mike Lindell and his company, MyPillow. Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas and his old company, Fraud Guarantee.

It can be hard to keep track of all the bit players in the Trump show, and the next administration seems more likely to mark a return to a relatively dull parade of experts and bureaucrats. So, while we still can, let’s remember some Trump Guys.

Trump Guys are largely responsible for our current reality. The general election of 2016 began with a Guy, Goldstone, peddling info on Clinton, and the 2020 campaign ended with another Guy, Tony Bobulinski, offering the same on Joe Biden. Over the past four years, Trump Guys have played key roles in a special-counsel investigation, an impeachment and, most recently, an election-fraud scavenger hunt behind Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Philadelphia.

President Trump's personal attorney was once a popular mayor of New York. Here's how he wound up in the middle of the Ukraine scandal. (Video: The Washington Post)

Trump’s presidential dream began on a gold escalator. It may have ended at Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

Their experiences also offer a prophecy of what life might be like for all of us once Trump is out of our lives: You can never really get back to the way things were before he shook up your world.

“Whatever I do, and wherever I end up in life, I see myself a little like Monica Lewinsky,” Goldstone said in a recent interview. “I will always be the person who wrote that email. Jeff Toobin said to me recently, whatever you do in your life, you wrote the most famous email, perhaps of the entire century.” (Toobin, the now-former New Yorker writer who lost his job at the magazine in the aftermath of the most famous Zoom call of the century, confirmed this account.)

“Laura, I’m trying to speak to somebody!” yelled Michael Cohen, the former Trump fixer who went to jail and is now under house arrest, when reached by phone. “My God,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. It’s like my wife is 2 years old. That’s the problem with being locked up at home — you can’t escape.”

Page’s exact whereabouts remain unknown. “That’s sort of the nature of being an international fugitive,” Page, who is not an international fugitive, said when reached by phone the day before the election. (A Google news search for Page, an energy consultant whose brief role as a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign helped spur the FBI’s Russia investigation, turned up a local item about a talk he was scheduled to give to the Republican club of Flower Mound, Tex.)

The curious journey of Carter Page, the former Trump adviser who can’t stay out of the spotlight

Anthony Scaramucci, the New York finance guy who lasted less than two weeks as a senior administration official before he was fired after being too candid about his machinations with a reporter, has embraced his Trump White House alumnus status, fashioning himself as a dial-a-quote for reporters looking for insight on the president’s behavior. Former “Apprentice” contestant and White House adviser Omarosa Manigault-Newman, too, has gone the route of Trump apologist-turned-Trumpologist. Sean Spicer, a longtime Republican hand who launched his brief tenure as press secretary by yelling at journalists for accurately reporting on the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration, had a cameo at the 2017 Emmys and competed on “Dancing With the Stars,” doing salsa to the Spice Girls in a shirt that resembled a gigantic piece of neon kelp.

Are the Guys all right? It’s hard to say.

“It has done nothing for me,” Goldstone asked about the experience of being a Trump Guy. “Which is strange, because usually knowing a president isn’t a bad thing. But there was something about even getting close to Donald Trump that seems to have forever marked you.”

How does a guy become a Trump Guy, anyway?

“Barack Obama and every other president had a circle around them,” said Parnas, a Trump Guy who was dispatched to Ukraine on a quixotic quest to find dirt on Biden. “If I could have broken into the circle, I think Obama and I would have been friends. But I would never have even gotten that opportunity, because his circle is his defense.”

“Trump doesn’t have that circle,” he continued. “He doesn’t have a defense circle because everyone around him is out for themselves.”

When Obama came to Washington, he arrived with a “no new friends” mantra, choosing instead to surround himself with a close group of friends and advisers, your Valerie Jarretts and David Axelrods.

Parnas was a failed businessman with a string of bad debts and a company he’d named Fraud Guarantee after having personally spent time cleaning up Google search results for his name that turned up fraud accusations levied against him. With a perfectly round head and thinning hair slicked down, he even looked a little as if he’d been picked up at the secondhand henchman store.

In other words, he fit right in.

“I would walk into the Trump hotel and it was like the movie ‘Trading Places,’ ” he said. “Everyone would say, ‘Hello, Mr. Parnas.’ And people from the Trump circle would be there and welcome me like it was my other home.”

All it took to break in was to spend some money at a few Trump fundraisers and dinners, ingratiate himself to the crowd. Soon he was part of Giuliani’s shadow-diplomacy efforts in Ukraine; Parnas lived there until he was 4 and had connections. His work with the former New York mayor — which included a haphazard attempt to find damaging information on Biden and his son Hunter and a slightly more successful effort to oust the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch (for the sin of not being a Trump Guy) — eventually became fodder during Trump’s impeachment.

Lev Parnas, barred from impeachment trial, makes himself its star anyway

Parnas and his partner, Igor Fruman, were detained at Dulles Airport while holding one-way tickets to Germany, charged with planning to direct funds from a Russian citizen to U.S. politicians. Today Parnas is under house arrest, allowed out only to go to the store or walk the dog. He’s got three children at home, the youngest still in diapers, which he is changing for the first time in his parenthood. And with plenty of time to think about it, he’s come to regret his time as a Trump Guy.

When Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 election, Parnas said he cried for joy.

“I got emotional watching Hunter up there, and I felt so bad that I participated in helping them,” he said, referring to his work with Trump’s allies. “But it was a cult, and I was in a war.”

It was a bumbling war, waged by a team of swaggering novices. “It wasn’t funny then,” Parnas said. “But, it’s hilarious.”

So it often goes with Trump Guys, whose capers might be charming if they were, say, trying to steal the rival football team's mascot rather than running the government or trying to usher the country through a deadly pandemic.

When Ben Carson, Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development, came down with covid-19 last week, the former surgeon wasn’t worried. He had a Guy for that.

“I heard about the oleander extract from Mike,” Carson said in an interview.

“Mike” is Mike Lindell, the pillow magnate who served as a Trump campaign chairman in Minnesota. Oleander extract is an unproven therapeutic remedy for the coronavirus that Lindell has been pushing.

Carson said he took the extract, which has not been approved for such purposes by the FDA and which experts say may be dangerous, and within hours his symptoms disappeared — to the delight of Lindell, who has a financial stake in the company that makes the extract.

“Anybody who has ever gotten covid and taken it, they are fine in five hours, and the next day are running around playing floor hockey in the hallway,” said Lindell, who has pitched the Trump administration on its effectiveness (which, again, has not been proved).

Is the MyPillow guy the future of the Republican Party, or is he just dreaming?

Trump is not only a Guy magnet. He is also an alchemist, able to turn anyone into a Guy.

Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state, was a highly successful businessman before Trump turned him into the Guy who was reportedly fired while on the toilet.

Spicer was a political hack with the Republican National Committee before Trump turned him into the angry Guy in a too-large suit lying about a too-small crowd.

Giuliani completed his transformation from America’s Mayor to Trump’s Guy in chief — a kind of a Guyfather, really, presiding over the work of lesser Guys like Parnas and Fruman.

It’s almost impossible to spend time around this president without becoming some kind of Guy.

“And then, when the president is done,” Parnas said, “he discards them and pretends he never knew them.”

Michael Cohen is, in many ways, the O.G. (Original Guy) of the Trump universe. He began working for the Trump Organization in 2006 and for years served as a attack-dog attorney in the mold of Trump's old consigliere, Roy Cohn. He facilitated hush-money payments to porn stars. He threatened journalists. ("So I'm warning you, tread very f---ing lightly because what I'm going to do to you is going to be f---ing disgusting," he told a reporter looking into reports of Trump's spousal abuse.) After Trump successfully took over the GOP, Cohen served as the deputy finance chairman of the RNC.

Then federal agents raided his home and office. Then he was arrested for campaign finance violations and tax evasion and admitted in court that the president had personally directed him to help cover up a potential sex scandal.

Cohen spent over a year in federal prison, emerging with chilling stories about what it’s like inside for a Trump turncoat. Once, he said, after coming down with a cold, he borrowed a friend’s turtleneck sweater (“When I have a cold, I like to have my neck covered”), and a Trump-loving guard made him take it off because it didn’t comply with the dress code.

Wait, that’s it?

“It was actually incredibly obnoxious of him,” Cohen said.

When the pandemic hit, he was moved to house arrest, where the horrors of lockup now include getting irritated with his wife. Cohen said he’s sorry about all he did in his Trump Guy days. His penance includes starting a podcast called “Mea Culpa” and writing a best-selling book, “Disloyal,” which he’s trying to turn into a movie.

Would a Trump Guy even be a Trump Guy if he weren’t selling something? Books, fish oil supplements, access? In that way, Trump Guys aren’t altogether different from other government guys who try to cash in on their Washington stories.

Well, except that a bunch of them seem to be doing so under monitoring by law enforcement.

“While I was going through it, I went back and read a lot about Watergate,” said Rick Gates, a former deputy campaign manager for Trump who is under house arrest for conspiracy against the United States and making false statements. “I think like most of those people we are going to be a footnote in history, but a footnote to a president who will clearly be remembered for decades to come. My goal is to get away from that kind of footnote.”

Other footnotes: Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman; Roger Stone, the longtime adviser; George Papadopoulos, the foreign policy adviser; and Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser. They were all convicted of crimes, too.

Arrested or not, being a Trump Guy can feel like something of a life sentence.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr Trump. . . .

Before he sent that infamous message to Don Jr., Goldstone was just a publicist living in New York City. His clients included the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club, the Russian Tea Room and the Azerbaijani pop star Emin Agalarov. He first met Donald Trump and his clan while helping bring the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow with Agalarov’s father, Aras Agalarov, as the host. That sealed his fate: Goldstone was baptized into the brotherhood of Trump Guys when his offer to help Russia help the Trump campaign made him a geopolitical person of interest.

Also, an object of ridicule. Because Goldstone was a ridiculous character.

He’d told Trump’s eldest that he had information from the “Crown prosecutor of Russia,” even though such a person does not exist. On the day of the meeting he brokered between a Russian lawyer and Trump campaign officials, Goldstone checked into Trump Tower on Facebook.

The meeting itself was a bust; Goldstone’s contact had a lot more information on Russian adoptions than opposition research on the Clintons. But the fact that the meeting happened at all was a scandal. Russiagate obsessives looking for info on who exactly this Rob Goldstone guy was soon found photos on social media of the publicist exhibiting a penchant for zany headgear: a pirate hat, a Carmen Miranda-style fruit basket, a crown . . . .

“I have a serious question,” “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah said in a segment about Goldstone. “Does the Trump family know anybody normal? Because everyone around them is a cartoon.”

Goldstone said he still gets recognized, and often hassled, in public. Public-relations jobs have dried up as quickly as potential clients can Google his name. (Where’s Fraud Guarantee when you need it?) Still, it’s not been all bad. He finally had material to write that book he’s always wanted (about how one email “Trumped” his life), and while he’s never been a particularly political person — he said his political views are more Bernie Sanders than Trump — he gets booked regularly on British radio as an expert on American politics.

He regrets the email to Don Jr., he said. And, like many of us, he’s just trying to hold on to the person he was before he got wrapped up in the Trump show.

“I still wear silly hats,” he said. “I was so imprisoned in my own life for a few years. It gives me a sense of freedom to say I don’t care what you say about me, I’m going to wear this laurel leaf, or this crown of jewels, or this witch’s hat. It was always supposed to be just for my friends. It was never supposed to be for millions of people.”

Manuel Roig-Franzia contributed to this report.