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On Wednesday evening, the public got a peek at former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort’s much-discussed wardrobe, which has been an eye-catching part of the first trial in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The special counsel’s office released photos of Manafort’s many expensive clothing purchases — nubby gray suits, silky striped suits, checkered blue suits, and more “casual” jackets made from brown python and black ostrich leather — that it claims Manafort paid for with laundered money.
The trial, which began on Tuesday, deals with the allegation that Manafort earned millions of dollars working for the Ukrainian government, filtered the money through offshore shell companies without reporting it to the US government or paying income taxes on it, and then proceeded to spend roughly $30 million of it on real estate, landscaping, fancy rugs, and clothing from luxury boutiques back in the States. On top of that, Mueller has charged Manafort with making fraudulent attempts to get bank loans.
Employees at the high-end clothing boutiques House of Bijan and Alan Couture testified in court on the second day of the trial. Manafort’s over-the-top wardrobe has figured prominently into his case because it offers evidence that he secretly wired money from offshore bank accounts to vendors in the US. Clothing can also be weaponized to play on our judgmental sides.
In the same way that we love to skewer politicians for buying expensive clothing (proof, seemingly, that they’re deeply out of touch with the concerns of everyday citizens) — or for wearing anything that’s noticeably impractical, as with Melania Trump’s stilettos — the prosecution is parading out Manafort’s possessions to cast him as “a man driven by greed,” in the words of the New York Times.
Judge T.S. Ellis III didn’t let prosecutors show jurors all of Manafort’s big purchases. “We don’t convict people because they have a lot of money and throw it around,” he said.
Still, the photos of Manafort’s clothing had their effect. Journalists on Twitter immediately latched onto them as a point of interest and a source of comedy.
Behold. The $15,000 ostrich coat Manafort bought with an international wire transfer, according to a men’s clothier who testified today. Government exhibit pic.twitter.com/BjuQ39ZeJ0— Kara Scannell (@KaraScannell) August 1, 2018
And by the time he bought that $15,000 ostrich jacket, Manafort already owned a $9,500 ostrich vest, which he'd bought in December 2011. pic.twitter.com/X8gNLZKs4r— Andrew Prokop (@awprokop) August 2, 2018
I love how all the Justice Department photos of Paul Manafort's clothes look like they're from a listing for an apartment sublet on craigslist pic.twitter.com/sOLIFMMsQ4— Katherine Miller (@katherinemiller) August 2, 2018
Though it’s easy to get caught up in the idea of spending half a million dollars on clothing in six years — the dream, some might say! — it’s not the contents of Manafort’s closet that’s important in this trial. It’s the question of where it came from.