There are two types of people in this world: those who know how to convert PDFs into Word documents and those who are indicted for money laundering. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is the second kind of person.
Back in October, a grand jury indictment charged Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates with a variety of crimes, including conspiring “to defraud the United States.” On Thursday, special counsel Robert Mueller filed a new indictment against the pair, substantially expanding the charges. As one former federal prosecutor told the Washington Post, Manafort and Gates’ methods appear to have been “extensive and bold and greedy with a capital ‘G,’ but … not all that sophisticated.”
One new detail from the indictment, however, points to just how unsophisticated Manafort seems to have been. Here’s the relevant passage from the indictment. I’ve bolded the most important bits:
Manafort and Gates made numerous false and fraudulent representations to secure the loans. For example, Manafort provided the bank with doctored [profit and loss statements] for [Davis Manafort Inc.] for both 2015 and 2016, overstating its income by millions of dollars. The doctored 2015 DMI P&L submitted to Lender D was the same false statement previously submitted to Lender C, which overstated DMI’s income by more than $4 million. The doctored 2016 DMI P&L was inflated by Manafort by more than $3.5 million. To create the false 2016 P&L, on or about October 21, 2016, Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000. Gates converted that .pdf into a “Word” document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered that “Word” document by adding more than $3.5 million in income. He then sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the “Word” document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort. Manafort then sent the falsified 2016 DMI P&L .pdf to Lender D.
So here’s the essence of what went wrong for Manafort and Gates, according to Mueller’s investigation: Manafort allegedly wanted to falsify his company’s income, but he couldn’t figure out how to edit the PDF. He therefore had Gates turn it into a Microsoft Word document for him, which led the two to bounce the documents back-and-forth over email. As attorney and blogger Susan Simpson notes on Twitter, Manafort’s inability to complete a basic task on his own seems to have effectively “created an incriminating paper trail.”
In Manafort’s defense, converting documents to and from Word could be easier. Not having tried it for a while, I attempted to transform my Word draft of this blog post into a PDF. I confess that I did fumble a bit at first (it’s been a while), but I eventually managed to get the job done. According to my stopwatch, the full ordeal took me 42 seconds. It involves a few steps, but there are plenty of accessible tutorials out there if you get lost.
Changing PDFs back to editable Word documents, meanwhile, does get a little more complicated. Try it in Adobe Acrobat (via the “Save as Other” command under “File” on a Mac) and you’ll quickly be redirected to Adobe’s website and presented with a handful of subscription packages that will allow you to transform your documents. For as little as $2 a month, Adobe will allow you to convert PDF files to Word, Excel, and rich text formats. If this feels extortionate, there are also plenty of services online that promise to let you do the same thing for free, but—and, to be clear, I’m no financial genius—even people who are allegedly misreporting millions of dollars in income can almost certainly afford the budget option. Indeed, it’s probably a little safer, all things considered.
What have we learned from all this? If you’re going to engage in some kind of complicated conspiracy, it’s probably a good idea to bone up on some basic computer skills first.