Nine months before he was elected president, Donald Trump sang the praises of a late New York City Democratic boss, Meade Esposito, who in the 1980s was convicted on a federal corruption charge.
“He was great,” Trump told NBC in February 2016. “Meade Esposito in his own way was a very, very honest guy. When he gave you his word on something, it was done.”
As is often the case, there was no real elaboration on a key point: What the real estate heir-turned-politician meant by “in his own way.”
The matter of who Trump’s friends are, and why, and on what terms, returns to the spotlight.
The question of loyalty is a recurring theme as federal law-enforcement officials — formally if not spiritually within Trump’s dominion — look around the territory of his private business.
All that has been published and confirmed in recent weeks about Trump’s longtime “lawyer-fixer” Michael Cohen makes any federal curiosity about his activities seem logical in the current context.
There was his close business and family relationship with a Cohen uncle who owned El Caribe, a Brooklyn catering hall identified as a meeting spot for mob guys.
Cohen’s longtime relationship with former Trump Organization business associate and convict-turned-informant Felix Sater — and their mutual involvement in efforts to put a Trump hotel in Moscow — also draws interest.
Last month, an FBI raid on Cohen’s Manhattan home and office sent shock waves. A plaintive Trump tweeted: “Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories.
“Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!”
Another Trump friend is lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor. Giuliani’s efforts to explain the Trump-Cohen-Stormy Daniels mess have been criticized inside and outside Trump’s support circles as sloppy pettifogging.
A recurring question in the Trump world is whether this aide or that one has gone off and acted on his or her own without regard to the president’s wishes.
It reminds you how, during the White House transition, Giuliani went around talking about being secretary of state and never got the job.
Did Trump really want Giuliani to say on TV Trump might have paid other women “if necessary?” Or that he wants to testify, and may testify, but could take the Fifth? Or that Trump would have known long ago about payments to Daniels or maybe didn’t?
For that matter, did Giuliani really find it just dandy that the president condescendingly said the ex-mayor “just started a day ago” and is a “great guy,” but still is “working hard” to learn his subject?
Or is Giuliani just glad to be back on stage?
Another longtime Trump friend, California real estate investor Tom Barrack, has — in contrast to the others — a smooth and graceful persona. His success in business appears to exceed Trump’s. He chaired the inaugural committee.
Barrack was interviewed as part of the Russia probe, according to The Associated Press. The subjects were reported to include Russia and the activities of Paul Manafort, the ex-Trump campaign chairman now under indictment in connection with money-laundering charges.
The friends and associates of Trump, and the tales they tell, will do much to define his future.